A friendly reminder for Elon Musk

By Andrew Ivers, August 3, 2016

Elon Musk has big plans—but will society go along with them?

A decade ago, the Tesla Motors CEO put out a “master plan” that talked about making an affordable electric car and developing zero-emissions energy options. The plan’s latest iteration builds on the original goals, but Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, sees a “revolutionary vision” as well—one that will require more than innovation in technology.

“Elon Musk doesn’t just want to fast-track the transition to renewable energy and self-driving cars,” Maynard writes, “he wants to rewrite the rulebook on how we build a futuristic sustainable society.”

While Musk’s goals are “technologically within reach,” Maynard argues they should be tempered with a deep appreciation for social obstacles. For instance, a proposal to enlist cars into a driverless ride-sharing fleet while their owners aren’t using them “would require a seismic shift in modern culture—not only in how we live our lives, but also how we think about possessions and ownership.”

According to Maynard, Musk seems to have an appreciation for this, but he might need to bolster it. Because “the relationship between technology and society is highly complex and constantly shifting,” Musk ought to get acquainted “with people in a whole bunch of new areas, from responsible innovation and the governance of emerging technologies, to technology assessment and risk innovation”—the last of those being Maynard’s bailiwick as a professor at Arizona State’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

It’s a useful reminder from an expert who otherwise calls Musk’s plans “visionary” and “elegant.”

As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.

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Publication Name: The Conversation
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