At an event hosted by Ecozine Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Nissa Marion, Musk was the smartly scheduled closing and main attraction at the StartmeupHK Venture Forum. Of the more than 20 events happening during the week – and that Geektime’s handsome reporter on the scene is trying to cover in full – Elon Musk certainly brought the most attention.
Musk mostly took questions on Tesla, perhaps reflecting the major interest from Hong Kong and China. Asked if China was putting enough effort into electric solutions to its air pollution, he said the wheels were turning.
“China is definitely aware,” Musk said with a relaxed and fast attitude on stage in a conversation with CNN International correspondent Kristi Lu Stout. “I’ve had a number of high level meetings. The Minister of Finance recently mentioned Tesla in a speech that he gave.”
Musk emphasized it wasn’t fair to bring up the question of China’s development relative to Western countries, especially the United States in terms of transportation infrastructure. He said that infrastructure in China is extremely advanced and his assets in electric travel or solar power could easily feed China’s energy needs.
Musk ecstatically quipped, “Quite frankly China is well developed, has better highways and better trains than the United States: by far. The challenge for Tesla in China is we need to establish a local partnership.” Musk was clearly not just there to talk up the China or even merely Hong Kong’s potential as a market for Tesla or a pool of talent for his massive engineer-bending projects.
Hong Kong landed a big fish with Musk’s visit to StartmeupHK. Rumor had it that there was a surge in demand to open the event up, selling out above capacity the space at the Central Government Office (CGO) in Central Hong Kong.
He did say the city was an interesting sort of lab for dealing with traffic, praising Hong Kong for building a new network of highway tunnels to deal with congestion and finally getting away from a road map “build in 2D.”
“Hong Kong is a beacon city for electric vehicles, [it can] serve as an example to the rest of the world on what to do,” Musk said on Monday at a press conference according to the South China Morning Post. “I currently do not foresee any city exceeding Hong Kong. It will be the leader of the world,” while adding they are actually getting more support from Hong Kong than China’s central government. Hong Kong has its own registration tax waivers for people who buy the electric cars. Buying them as company vehicles also makes businesses eligible for tax deductions.
He quipped that the Beijing traffic was “pretty crazy” after he was asked what he thought about Autopilot alleviating that city’s gridlock. “It can certainly take the edge off.”
Jesting about the future
His humor was in full form, moving into deadpan mode as the questions started getting paired with some clunky compliments from whom you would imagine would be an objective interviewer. After mentioning he has dabbled in the idea of a submerging car, he took an unexpected comment about using flying cars instead of tunnels as an actual question, delivering a serious answer mixed with some humor.
“Well, flying cars sound cool, but they do make a lot of wind and are quite noisy and the probability of something falling on your head is much higher.”
The tone of the chat stunted as Stout went off on tangents of praise for Musk, but the audience lit up again when the conversation moved to his ambitious vision of making humanity a literally stellar species.
“Do we want a future that we’re confined to one planet, at risk of an extinction event, or be a multi-planet species? The latter is more inspiring than the former. It’s the only planet we have a shot at establishing ourselves and establishing a city on. It will help us establish colonies elsewhere in the solar system and establish colonies beyond the solar system. Ensure the line is not extinguished, that’s the defensive reason.”
He described the defensive reason for that ambition as pretty simple: a line of security to prevent the extinguishing of the human flame. But ultimately, he’s doing it because it’s, in a word, cool.
“It gets me incredibly excited, that this would be an incredible adventure. The reasons you get up in the morning can’t just be that you have to solve a problem.”
“First flights to Mars, we’re hoping to do that in 2025,” drawing some gasps in the room from people who may not have been familiar with Musk’s declared ambitions before. The reporter was probably the most surprised by the comment, though it sounded a bit feigned: “That’s just around the corner, my goodness,” she said.
“Well, nine years,” Musk bounced back dryly, drawing laughs from the crowd. Short timetable or not, the proposition of sending a handful of people or several thousand (which he said back in 2011), he is not trying to hide one of the most intense risks-worth-the-rewards arguments in human history.
“It’s going to be hard and dangerous. If you care about being safe and comfortable, going to Mars would be a terrible choice.”