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  • SAL KHAN: So first of all, I just want

  • to thank Elon for coming-- hungry.

  • You didn't even have dinner.

  • And we didn't even feed you properly.

  • ELON MUSK: No, sorry to be a bit late.

  • I just came from the Tesla factory in Fremont.

  • SAL KHAN: Yes.

  • Was something wrong?

  • ELON MUSK: There's always something.

  • SAL KHAN: Did you have to like--

  • ELON MUSK: At any given point, there's always something wrong.

  • SAL KHAN: Yes.

  • ELON MUSK: Because there's just too many things going on.

  • So one of the trickiest things about a car

  • is that there's thousands of individual components--

  • there are thousands of unique components--

  • and even if one of those things is missing,

  • you can't make cars.

  • So today's fiasco was-- I kid you

  • not-- we were missing a $3 USB cable.

  • OK.

  • So we could not complete cars, because--

  • SAL KHAN: So the whole line was stopped?

  • ELON MUSK: Yeah.

  • So essentially, because it's part of the wiring harness.

  • So you can't put the interior in without this cable.

  • And so we could either make a whole bunch

  • of cars minus the interior, which

  • means that you've got to stack them up in the yard.

  • SAL KHAN: The resale value would be no good.

  • ELON MUSK: Well, it can be done, but if then things go out

  • of sequence, and it's way more inefficient--

  • you don't have a moving production line.

  • Then you have to send people out to hundreds

  • of cars that are sitting in the storage yard.

  • And so this happens to be a particularly pernicious cable.

  • It's kind of routed under the carpet, in a difficult place.

  • And it's literally $3.

  • And so we basically had to send people throughout the Bay Area

  • to go and buy USB cables.

  • SAL KHAN: Like, literally, Radio Shack?

  • ELON MUSK: Like Fry's.

  • SAL KHAN: Oh, Fry's.

  • That's better.

  • ELON MUSK: You're going to have a hard time getting a USB cable

  • right now at Fry's, because we bought every one of them.

  • SAL KHAN: That's good.

  • ELON MUSK: And so we're able to continue production.

  • And I don't want to belabor the anecdote,

  • but essentially the supplier is in China.

  • And we had plan A and plan B. And plan A

  • was like the normal supply chain process.

  • But what the supplier did was instead

  • of sending our parts in their own package,

  • they grouped it together with a bunch

  • of other stuff for other companies

  • and sent that all via some extremely slow boat from China

  • to LA.

  • And when it got to LA, the other stuff didn't pass customs.

  • And so they wouldn't let our stuff through, because--

  • SAL KHAN: They put it like a barrel fruit or something.

  • ELON MUSK: I don't what they put it,

  • but something that customs didn't like.

  • And the paperwork wasn't in order or whatever.

  • So it got stuck there for like a couple weeks.

  • And then we had plan B. So we called and said,

  • look you've got to air freight some of these cables--

  • cause they're just little cables-- to us.

  • And we talked to their US subsidiary

  • and ordered from the US subsidiary,

  • who then communicated to China.

  • But then because this was another batch of parts,

  • so it was kind of double the order,

  • it exceeded the credit limit that we had.

  • So it bounced off the credit limit, so they didn't ship it.

  • SAL KHAN: Fascinating.

  • So someone's losing their job now.

  • This is-- no, I'm kidding.

  • You shouldn't fire anyone.

  • ELON MUSK: I mean, it's pretty farcical.

  • And, anyway, so, it's coming like tonight

  • at 11:00 PM or something.

  • SAL KHAN: Wow.

  • And these things are happening like all the time?

  • This was an unusual circumstance?

  • ELON MUSK: Yeah.

  • That's like one example, but there's many things like that.

  • SAL KHAN: I guess, I mean, that's actually

  • a really good example, because that

  • leads into what I've always been fascinated

  • by a lot of what you're doing.

  • Well, I'll start with, how did you get into this?

  • ELON MUSK: Into cars?

  • SAL KHAN: Into cars.

  • Into taking over NASA.

  • Well, not taking over NASA-- being a contractor for NASA.

  • ELON MUSK: Just for the record, we are not taking over NASA.

  • SAL KHAN: You're not taking over NASA.

  • They are an independent organization.

  • But you are becoming a major provider of services for NASA.

  • Obviously, kind of internet payments and payments

  • generally.

  • I mean these are three completely different spaces.

  • I think a lot of people would not take someone seriously,

  • if they had a business plan in one of these.

  • ELON MUSK: Right.

  • Sorry to eat.

  • SAL KHAN: Oh, yeah, take your time.

  • What was your-- did you always think

  • you were going to be doing this or-- when did it

  • dawn on you that you would try to revolutionize

  • three industries?

  • ELON MUSK: Well, when I was in college--

  • I didn't actually expect to do it.

  • So it was not like this is some long-fulfilled expectation.

  • But when I was in college, I thought

  • about what were the areas that would most

  • effect the future of humanity, in my opinion.

  • And the three areas were the internet, sustainable energy,

  • and space exploration, particularly

  • if humanity becomes a multi-planet species.

  • You know, there's kind of like a pretty substantial bifurcation

  • in our future, if we're either out there among stars

  • on multiple planets, or if we're confined

  • to Earth until some obviously eventual extinction.

  • Not Not that I'm pessimistic about live on Earth.

  • I mean, things are likely to be good.

  • More likely to be good by far than bad.

  • SAL KHAN: Yellowstone's due for an explosion

  • every several hundred thousand-- Shandra knows about that.

  • It's been 700,000,

  • ELON MUSK: Right.

  • Right.

  • Yeah.

  • SAL KHAN: Super volcano for those of you who don't know.

  • It would envelop, but well--

  • ELON MUSK: Yeah.

  • Exactly.

  • I know exactly what you're talking about.

  • So--

  • SAL KHAN: We read the same books.

  • I can tell.

  • ELON MUSK: Absolutely.

  • I mean something bad is bound to happen

  • if you give it enough time.

  • And civilization has been around for such a very short period

  • of time that these time scales seem like very long,

  • but on an evolutionary time scale, they're very short.

  • A million years on an evolutionary time scale

  • is really not very much.

  • And Earth's been around for four and a half

  • billion years, so that's a very tiny, tiny amount of time,

  • really.

  • But for us that would be-- can you

  • can imagine if human civilization continued

  • at anything remotely like the current pace of technology ad

  • advancement for a million years?

  • Where would we be?

  • I think we're either extinct or on a lot of planets.

  • SAL KHAN: Yes.

  • We should--

  • ELON MUSK: Those are the two options.

  • SAL KHAN: But given that-- I mean,

  • one, that's kind of as epic as one

  • can think about things, literally.

  • How did you make that concrete?

  • How does that turn into SpaceX, Tesla and Paypal?

  • ELON MUSK: Well, so I thought about these things

  • kind of in the abstract.

  • Not from the expectation that I would actually

  • have careers in those arenas.

  • But, I wanted to be involved in at least one of them.

  • And at first I thought the best bet

  • was going to be electric cars.

  • And so the area that I was studying

  • was advanced capacitors.

  • So essentially capacitors that have an engine density

  • exceeding that of batteries.

  • Because they have a very high power

  • density, but a low energy density.

  • Maybe you have lecture to that effect, I don't know.

  • SAL KHAN: Oh, yes, no.

  • We should do that.

  • We'll get to it later.

  • ELON MUSK: Exactly.

  • So obviously, if you could make a capacitor that

  • had anywhere near the energy density of a battery

  • with this incredibly high power density

  • and this quasi-infinite cycle and calendar life, then

  • you'd have an awesome solution for energy storage

  • and mobile applications.

  • So I was going to try to work on that

  • and try to leverage the equipment that was developed

  • for advanced chip making and photonics

  • to create ultra-precise capacitors

  • at the molecular level.

  • SAL KHAN: And this was when you were

  • going to go into grad school?

  • You had a brief stint at Stanford?

  • ELON MUSK: That's right.

  • SAL KHAN: At a PhD in applied physics?

  • ELON MUSK: Applied physics, material science.

  • SAL KHAN: Right.

  • So even then you were thinking of trying

  • to do something in the space?

  • ELON MUSK: Actually, this was d to work on energy storage

  • solutions for electric cars.

  • And I'd actually worked at a company

  • in Silicon Valley called Pinnacle Research, which

  • did advanced capacitors.

  • There were electrolytic capacitors.

  • And they actually were pretty good.

  • They had like the energy density of a lead-acid battery, which

  • for a capacitor, that's a big deal.

  • But they used ruthenium tantalum oxide.

  • And I think at the time, there was

  • maybe like one or two tons of ruthenium

  • mined per year in the world.

  • So it's not a scalable solution.

  • But I thought there could be some solid-state solution,

  • like just using chip-making equipment.

  • That was going to be the basic idea.

  • But it was one of those things where I wasn't sure

  • if success was one of possible outcomes.

  • It's difficult to bound that problem exactly and say, OK--

  • SAL KHAN: So you're saying, I felt

  • like this was a destined failure is another way

  • to parse that sentence.

  • But anyway, sorry.

  • ELON MUSK: No.

  • I didn't think it would fail, but I wasn't sure

  • that success was a possibility.

  • SAL KHAN: OK.

  • Yes.

  • ELON MUSK: And generally you want

  • to embark on something-- it's desirable to figure out

  • if success is at least one of the possibilities.

  • SAL KHAN: Right, exactly.

  • ELON MUSK: Because for sure failure

  • is one of the possibilities.

  • But, ideally, you want to try to bracket it

  • and say success is in the envelope of outcomes.

  • And I wasn't quite sure if that was the case.

  • I think success on an academic level would have been quite

  • likely, because you can publish some useless paper--

  • and most papers are pretty useless--

  • SAL KHAN: We have a few-- don't take offense.

  • ELON MUSK: I mean, how many PhD papers are actually

  • used by someone ever?

  • SAL KHAN: That's a good point.

  • ELON MUSK: Percentagewise it's not good.

  • And so it could have been one of those outcomes

  • where you add some leaves to the tree of knowledge.

  • And that leaf is, nope, it's not possible.

  • And there goes seven years of my life.

  • So that was one path.

  • And I was prepared to do that.

  • But then the internet came along.

  • And it was like, oh, OK, the Internet,