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What do Artificial Intelligence, space exploration, electric cars, and planetary transportation tubes have in common? Aside from being common fixtures in Science Fiction, what unites these ideas is the one man behind them all, the man who plans on sustainably bringing them into existence for the benefit of all humanity: Elon musk. In this article Dima Issa takes a candid look at this Innovative icon.

It’s rare to find a man whose work involves saving the planet, exploring the cosmos, and understanding the nature of consciousness in one, as each is a task befitting a lifetime. So how did it come to be that the 53rd richest person in the world (according to Forbes magazine) and the 21st most powerful person became determined to use his power for planetary change?

Early life Musk was born in 1971 in South Africa. He was a self-described geek, voraciously read science fiction, and had an aptitude for self-learning. As such, he had a tough time at school in Pretoria, and was perceived as an outcast. He was badly bullied, to say the least, and ended up in hospital on a few occasions. In spite of, or perhaps because of the animosity he faced, he would often read for 10 hours a day — a lot of science fiction initially, and then a lot of non-fiction too.

At the age of nine, his fascination broadened to technology, when he got his hands on his first computer. It came with five kilobytes of memory and a user manual that was supposed to take the user six months to complete. Nine-year-old Elon finished it in three days. Not surprisingly, by the time he was 12 he had designed and created his own computer game, Blaster, which he sold to a PC company for $500.

By age 17 he left South Africa forever. He hadn’t been able to identify with the culture there, and had a vision of living and working in Silicon Valley — which he saw as the Promised Land of futurism and technology. He immigrated to Canada, thanks to his mother’s Canadian citizenship, and then a few years later transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, as his golden ticket into America.

Early career In college, his love of science-fiction literature led him to ask himself a very powerful question, “What will most affect the future of humanity?” and the answer he came up with was a list of five things: the internet; sustainable energy; space exploration, in particular the permanent extension of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code.

He decided to pursue sustainable energy initially, enrolling in a Stanford PhD program to study high energy density capacitors, a technology aimed at finding more efficient ways to store energy than the non-renewable form of the battery. However, two days into the program he got itchy feet. The year was 1995, and the internet wave was growing into a tsunami — which Elon intended to surf!

The internet so he crossed off sustainable energy as his starting point (intending to return to it at a later time) and embarked on a journey following the first item on his list to change the future of humanity: the internet. He tried interviewing with Netscape, but was too shy to secure the position, and instead teamed up with his brother Kimbal (who had followed Elon to the United States) to start their own company — Zip2.

Tim Urban, the mind behind the WaitButWhy blog, describes Zip2 as being “like a primitive combination of Yelp and Google Maps, far before anything like either of those existed. The goal was to get businesses to realize that being in the Yellow Pages would soon become outdated, and that it was a good idea to get themselves into an online directory.”

Taking risks just like anyone taking a risk and starting their own company, out of college, times were tough initially for the ‘just out of college’ brothers. They had to resort to sleeping in the office and showering at the local community center.

Their hard work paid off and in 1999, at the peak of the internet boom of the nineties, they sold their company for $307 million. Musk, who was 27, made $22 million in his share.

Empire building any other 27 year old might have seen this as the apex of their career, and would have folded their arms smugly as they embarked on an early retirement. However, Musk had four more items on his list of changing the world, and wasn’t about to stop there.

He invested three quarters of his net worth into his new idea of creating an online banking system, called, where everything could be done online.

Back then; it was a fringe concept pushing at the boundaries of what the internet was capable of, however in current times it has become very much the norm. paired up with a finance company called Confinity, run by Peter Thiel and Max Levchin.

PayPal was born both companies began to notice a strong demand for their money-transfer services, which suddenly pitted the two companies against each other. They decided to merge into a new company and PayPal was born. However, there was still trouble with the upper echelons of leadership.

In 2000, when Musk left on honeymoon, Thiel and Levchin staged a coup and removed Elon as CEO, replacing him with Thiel. He stayed on in a senior position, continuing to invest in the company, and later was rewarded when eBay bought PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion (Musk’s share was $180 million).

Just as before, instead of buying an island and living out the rest of his days in a breeze, Elon used the earnings to solely fund his even bigger, even more mind-bending next project: space exploration.

The start of SpaceX and Tesla SpaceX was born in 2002, and its initial purpose was to make humans into a multi-planetary species by colonizing Mars over the next century. Musk was on a roll, and in 2004 decided to pursue two of his dreams simultaneously — space exploration, and sustainable energy. This is when he launched the electric car company Tesla, which sought to revolutionize the world’s transport, and which as of February 2018 has produced 300,000 vehicles, and sent one Tesla Roadster successfully into space.

In 2008 times were tough for SpaceX! Their first three rockets exploded upon launch, and the damages put an enormous drain on the company’s funds. Rather than accept defeat, Elon turned to books and research, determined to find a solution. When he started SpaceX, he was coming from a coding background. But now, more than ever, he took it upon himself to learn and master the fundamentals of rocket science. One of the books he credits his success to is “Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down” a book about structural engineering by J.E. Gordon, a British scientist.

Falcon 1 Gets Launched

Musk got intimately involved with the planning and design of SpaceX’s Falcon rocket, and Falcon 1 became the first privately developed rocket to successfully launch and go into orbit around earth. This is when SpaceX caught NASA’s interest, and NASA offered SpaceX a $1.6 billion dollar contract to help with the next 12 Falcon launches. Since then, SpaceX has launched 20 rockets — each of them a success and NASA is a regular client.

The Tesla Model S has become a smashing success, with a consumer report rating of 99/100 (the highest ever) and a safety ranking of 5.4/5. Musk’s ventures are all on an upward spiral of success, and is he ready for early retirement now? Of course not! There are still items on his list to develop, and he still has the dream of saving the future of humanity.

No stopping Elon his newest and possibly most ambitious project to date is Neuralink, which is a startup that is centered on creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain, with the eventual purpose of helping human beings merge with software and keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence. These enhancements could improve memory or allow for more direct interfacing with computing, in addition to downloading and preserving your consciousness forever! A lofty task, but if we know anything about Elon, we know that his sight is set on the stars, and his mission is to help humanity achieve the future we’ve all been imagining.

Elon Musk’s central force is all about turning our wildest science fiction dreams into reality, a concept of which he has proven himself more than capable. Therefore, as lasting thoughts, who better to quote but Philip K. Dick, an author of science fiction who states; “The measure of a man is not his intelligence or how quickly he rises in the establishment. No, the true measure of a man is this: how quickly can he respond to the needs of others and how much of himself can he give.”