When we last checked on Elon Musk’s Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) page, he was promising his Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) subsidiary SpaceX is “launching satellite Doge-1 to the moon next year” in a mission that will be paid for in Dogecoin (CRYPTO: DOGE).
Musk’s lunar target has his social media followers, the so-called #DogeArmy, echoing his goals and language. Indeed, the last time anyone has heard so much bellowing of “to the moon” was when a bellicose Ralph Kramden argued with his long-suffering wife Alice.
However, Musk has a well-documented history of offering bold talk that is disconnected from reality. As recently as this week, Benzinga reported Tesla executives admitted Musk has been overstating the capability of the electric vehicle maker’s self-driving technology in some of his tweets.
While Musk's boastfulness should not be seen as a criticism of the workforce at his companies (including the often-overlooked tunnel diggers of The Boring Company) or of Dogecoin’s current investment viability, it's important to point out that the ebullient entrepreneur is known to serve up big talk that doesn’t always translate into big results.
Hyperloop Hoopla: Back in 2012, Musk began generating headlines by talking up the Hyperloop, a transportation technology that would bring passengers at hypersonic speeds in sealed tubes across tracks powered by a low air pressure system. This could be seen as the descendant of the old pneumatic tube technology that was used in office buildings at the turn of the 20th century and can still be found at some drive-thru windows at bank branches.
Musk initially proposed a 350-mile hyperloop system connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a projected 35-minute travel time between the metros. Musk’s initial budget aimed at a range of $6 billion to $7.5 billion. At the time, many transportation experts balked at his concept and his budget, claiming both were unrealistic.
The fact you cannot hop a hyperloop from Los Angeles to San Francisco suggests that Musk eventually realized his great idea wasn’t feasible. Virgin Hyperloop, a subsidiary of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc (NYSE:SPCE), has been laboring on the concept in Las Vegas, but it has not generated Musk’s level of public interest.
Elon and the Brain: In 2016, Musk co-founded Neuralink Corporation to create implantable brain–machine interfaces, citing the company’s goal was to provide treatments for patients with brain-related illness and disease.
Musk has gone on record claiming the company will create solutions to “solve” autism and schizophrenia while enabling paralyzed people to use smartphones through mental concentration. Last month, Neuralink released a video of a macaque monkey with two Neuralink devices implanted in its brain playing the old computer game Pong with its mind rather than a joystick. The presentation was made without any scientific papers explaining what occurred and how it happened.
Within the specialized field of neurology science, Neuralink has generated a deep degree of incredulity. An August 2020 article by Antonio Regalado, senior editor of MIT Technology Review, ridiculed the company’s efforts in general and Musk in particular, observing that “four years after its formation, Neuralink has provided no evidence that it can (or has even tried to) treat depression, insomnia, or a dozen other diseases that Musk mentioned.”
Regalado also faulted Musk in hyping the technology for non-medical purposes, citing how he “continually drifted away from medicine and back to a much more futuristic ‘general population device,’ which he called the company’s ‘overall’ aim. He believes that people should connect directly to computers in order to keep pace with artificial intelligence.”
More concerns were raised by Dr. Anna Wexler, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. In an op-ed published April 7 on the medical news site StatNews, she called out Musk’s sloppily non-scientific approach to a highly specialized field.
“In this new world of private neurotech development, company demos are live-streamed on YouTube and have the flavor of techno-optimism that involves proclamations about a future we have yet to see — but one that we are assured will come to pass,” she wrote. “Data are sparse; rhetoric about making the world a better place is heavy.”
Musk has also been bashed by the animal rights group PETA for conducting tests on monkeys and pigs.
Muck Homes, Not Cheap: In May 2018, Musk announced his tunnel-digging company was getting involved in the creation of affordable housing.
“The Boring Company will be using dirt from tunnel digging to create bricks for low-cost housing,” Musk tweeted.
A spokesperson for The Boring Company followed up with Bloomberg that the bricks were being sourced from the "excavated muck" of a tunnel under construction in Hawthorne, California, adding “there will be an insane amount of bricks.”
Unfortunately, Musk and his team were unaware that California’s building codes required extra buttresses in brick buildings to prevent collapse during earthquakes, which makes the construction of affordable housing extremely expensive.
Juan Matute, a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and associate director of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies, complained to Bloomberg that Musk was ignorant on the basics of affordable housing development.
“He assumes that housing costs are driven by construction materials, and particularly, construction materials that can be replaced by bricks,” Matutue said. “That's not the case.”
To date, The Boring Company has yet to donate a brick to an affordable housing project.
The Truth, Comrade: Also in May 2018, Musk reacted to a skein of negative press coverage he was receiving by promising to create an online resource to rate the professionalism of the fourth estate.
“Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication,” he tweeted. “Thinking of calling it Pravda. Even if some of the public doesn’t care about the credibility score, the journalists, editors & publications will. It is how they define themselves.”
Musk conducted a Twitter poll on whether his followers thought Pravda was a good idea, with 88.1% of the more than 690,000 respondents supporting the idea. Pravda, of course, was the name of the official newspaper of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party — its name in English is “truth,” which was an elusive commodity in that publication.
Musk registered Pravda as a company in Delaware, but then admitted he could not use Pravda.com because the government of Ukraine owned the domain. He announced the new resource would become Pravduh, but this venture never went live.
Despite his failure to make good on his idea, Musk continued to bash the media, claiming he was a victim of economic circumstance.
“Problem is journos are under constant pressure to get max clicks & earn advertising dollars or get fired,” he tweeted. “Tricky situation, as Tesla doesn’t advertise, but fossil fuel companies & gas/diesel car companies are among world’s biggest advertisers.”
Saving Private Musk: But, of course, the pièce de resistance of the Musk loose-lips canon took place in a tweet on Aug. 7, 2018.
“Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured. Shareholders could either sell at 420 or hold shares & go private.”
Musk’s tweet animated Tesla’s stock price, sending it up by more than 13%. And while the 420 reference might have been an obvious wacky weed joke, the stone-cold sober team at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission weren't laughing and within a week he was sued in federal court for securities fraud.
“Musk knew or was reckless in not knowing that each of these statements was false and/or misleading because he did not have an adequate basis in fact for his assertions,” the prosecutors wrote in their complaint. “Musk knew that he had never discussed a going-private transaction at $420 per share with any potential funding source, had done nothing to investigate whether it would be possible for all current investors to remain with Tesla as a private company via a ‘special purpose fund,’ and had not confirmed support of Tesla’s investors for a potential going-private transaction.”
Musk quickly settled out of court, paying a $20 million civil fine to settle fraud charges and agreeing to step down as Tesla chairman. The company wound up paying its own $20 million settlement with the SEC.
(Photo by Tumisu / Pixabay.)