- Time Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Edward Felsenthal announced that Elon Musk is the magazine’s Person of the Year 2021.
- The American entrepreneur and business magnate who is also the richest person in the world currently is an all arounder who acts as a CEO and founder of many multi-million dollar companies such as SpaceX and Tesla among others.
- Despite his amazing entrepreneurial achievements, Musk has been at the receiving end of scrutiny from the public and his critics due to his questionable antics, especially on social media platforms such as Twitter.
Elon Reeves Musk, the 50-year-old American entrepreneur and business magnate has been felicitated as the Person of The Year 2021 by the renowned Time Magazine. The enigmatic Mr. Musk is in the true sense of the term an all-rounder as he functions at the helm of a number of multi-million dollar enterprises. He is the founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer at Space Exploration Technologies Corporation which is popularly abbreviated as SpaceX. He is also the CEO and Product Architect of Tesla Incorporated. In addition, he also reprises the role of the founder of The Boring Company and co-founder of Neuralink and OpenAI. With an estimated net worth of around 255 billion US dollars as of December 2021, Elon Musk is currently the richest person in the world.
Born on 28th June 1971, the now 50-year-old Musk was brought up in Pretoria in South Africa. He attended the University of Pretoria for around five months and later migrated to Canada in June 1989, in lieu of his Canadian-born mother. In Canada, Musk lived with a second cousin and worked various odd jobs at a farm and lumber mill. In 1990, he entered Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.] Two years later, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania from where he graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics.
During the course of his higher education in 1994, Musk held two internships in Silicon Valley during the summer. One at an energy storage startup Pinnacle Research Institute, which researched electrolytic ultracapacitors for energy storage, and at the Palo Alto-based startup Rocket Science Games. In 1995, Musk was accepted to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program in materials science at Stanford University in California. He bravely dropped out of Stanford after two days, deciding instead to join the Internet boom and launch an Internet startup.
A lifetime worth of achievements
Musk’s entrepreneurial journey which would inspire the youth for generations to come began in a small rented office in Palo Alto. In 1995, Musk, Kimbal, and Greg Kouri founded a web software company Zip2 with funds from angel investors. The company was responsible for developing and marketing an Internet city guide for the newspaper publishing industry, with maps, directions, and yellow pages.
X.com and PayPal
Next came the venture which launched Musk as a known figure in the business world. In 1999, Musk co-founded a firm named X.com. It was essentially marketed as an online financial services and e-mail payment company. The startup was one of the first of its kind and made history because in its initial months itself it managed to garner over 200,000 customers. However, it was not a smooth road for Musk as he was replaced as the CEO by the board of directors of the company who saw him as inexperienced. In the upcoming year itself, however, in view of excessive competition X.com merged with online bank Confinity. This move ensured Musk’s return as the CEO of the joint venture. Confinity had its own money-transfer service known as PayPal, which was more popular than X.com’s service. In 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in stock, of which Musk who was the largest shareholder received over $100 million. In 2017, Musk purchased the domain X.com from PayPal for an undisclosed amount, explaining it has sentimental value for him.
Musk had always been vocal about the increasing pressure on Earth’s resources by the ailing population pressure. His solution has also been spoken about in great detail in all forms of news and print media. Musk wanted to transform humans into a space-faring civilization with the first goal of creating sustainable housing opportunities on the Red Planet, Mars. So in 2002, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX was created. Musk was said to have been inspired by the non-profit organization named Mars Society in launching this venture.
SpaceX attempted their first launch of the Falcon 1 rocket in 2006, but unfortunately, the rocket failed to reach Earth orbit. After two more failed attempts, SpaceX succeeded in launching the Falcon 1 into orbit in 2008, making it the first private liquid-fuel rocket to do so. Later that year, SpaceX received a $1.6 billion contract from NASA for 12 flights of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, replacing the original Space Shuttle. In 2012, the Dragon vehicle berthed with the ISS, a first for a private space organization.
Since its early days, SpaceX has been at the forefront in creating records and history. The INSPIRATION4 mission was launched as SpaceX’s historic first all-civilian-crew mission to orbit the Earth. The launch took place at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, Florida on 15th September 2021. The mission carried 4 untrained civilians to space composed of American billionaire Jared Issacman, CEO of Shift4Payments company who funded the mission and acted as commander. Among others were Christopher Sembroski, an American data engineer and an Air Force veteran who acted as the mission specialist. There was Sian Proctor, an American geology professor who acted as the pilot, and lastly, Hayley Arceneaux who works as a physician assistant at St Jude’s Children Research Hospital. She acted as the medical officer for her crew. The record-breaking mission was aimed to raise funds for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Elon Musk has always been a spokesperson for the pressing need for cleaner energy alternatives. Hence it was no surprise when he invested in the American electric vehicle and clean energy company based in Austin, Texas, United States. Tesla was initially founded in July 2003, by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Tesla is credited with designing and manufacturing electric cars, battery energy storage options from home to grid-scale, solar panels and solar roof tiles, and other related products and services.
Tesla’s autopilot feature has been highly talked about before its actual appearance in the specifications. According to the company, the autopilot feature will enable the driver to automatically steer the car, accelerate and brake within its lane. The car aims to enable this feature by functioning under the commands generated by a state-of-the-art sensor and camera system. The cars are equipped with 8 external cameras, an artificial intelligence-powered computer, and 12 external sensors. Tesla currently manufactures a total of four car models with the autopilot feature, making it the first company in the current era to do so. The models are Tesla Model 3, Model S, Model X, and Model Y. Although, the company has clearly stated that this autopilot feature only makes a self-drive experience partially possible and does not make the car fully autonomous. That means an attentive driver behind the wheel is still a necessity when out for a drive.
Another cap in Elon Musk’s cap is in relation to his experiments with biology-based computer interfaces, a fine example of which is his ambitious project named Neuralink. Neuralink is a neuroscience company that has launched a brain chip, called the “Link”, almost the size of a large coin. This chip is meant to be implanted inside one’s brain by a robotic surgeon and is meant to connect your brain to the digital world, starting with one’s very own smartphone.
Experts believe that by using BCI(Brain-Computer interfaces), they can use electrodes to replicate the normal biological activity of neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. This will even allow patients suffering from paralysis to send texts and shop from websites or simply use an electronic gadget, just by thinking about it. In a therapeutic dimension, Neuralink believes it can also cure patients suffering from various mental illnesses. Their chip can help in reducing triggering impulses produced by the brain which cause anxiety and depression. Also, the electrodes of this chip can help in firing non-functioning neurons of the brain which can help a patient with dementia regain even lost memories. Interestingly, the world got to witness a taste of Musk’s live streaming brain implant in a recent live-streamed event through a segment called “Pigs in the Matrix.” On a giant screen, a real-time video of neurons firing in a test pig subject was played followed by a ringtone of the electrical activity in their brain.
Criticism, a way of life
With great power comes great scrutiny. Hence it is no surprise that Musk’s actions and achievements have always been under the public scanner.
Musk was criticized by the masses when researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) found that indeed as expected, drivers using the autopilot feature on Tesla cars turn out to become disengaged from the road as soon as the autopilot is switched on. Research proved the converse is also applicable that as soon as autopilot is switched off, the drivers turn their attention back to the road. The study concluded that when autopilot is switched on, the drivers tend to look not only at their smartphones but also at the central touch screen of the vehicle which is useful for multimedia purposes such as switching on music and so on. The MIT study has henceforth concluded that Tesla’s “Full-Self Driving” (FSD) system is not as safe and effective as founder Elon Musk claims. Soon enough, the American entrepreneur was slapped with lawsuits due to accidents caused by Teslas.
Musk has always been on the chopping board when it comes to his antics on social media. He is an infamous user of Twitter. Time and time again, Elon Musk’s tweeting prowess has landed him at the center of controversy. Recently, the world’s richest person released a controversial tweet via which he pledged to sell 10% which amounts to roughly 21 billion US dollars worth of stocks of his electric vehicle and clean energy company Tesla. This drastic move came after a decision formed from a not so very concrete decision-making tool – A Twitter poll!
Many were left with a bitter aftertaste for his move and saw it as a clever way of escaping taxes. Critics analyzed Musk’s move to sell off his stocks which they have referred to as a “ticking tax time bomb”. According to reports, the estimated 21 billion dollar stock which the Tesla CEO was getting rid of was set to expire itself anyways. If Musk chose to retain said stock, he would be looking at a much higher and heftier tax. The amount could be up to around 10 billion dollars. But to get around this particular tax structure, the American billionaire used the clever cover of a Twitter poll and made an eccentric show of giving away 10 percent of the stocks. In return for selling the shares, he is set to earn around 20 billion dollars, a sum which is nearly double the amount he would need to foot the tax bill. So ultimately it appears as if Musk played a sly move and presented his decision of getting rid of expired stock to aid the public in the post-pandemic economy. This has caused a major uproar among the masses with many calling out the billionaire for his hypocrisy.
All being said and done, there’s definitely no denial of the sensational effect Elon Musk has on the world. And rightly so, Time Magazine describes the title of “Person of the Year” as someone who affected the news or the lives of the world population for “better or the worse”. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Edward Felsenthal, said, for creating solutions to an existential crisis, for embodying the possibilities and the perils of the age of tech titans, and for driving society’s most daring and disruptive transformations, Elon Musk is TIME’s 2021 Person of the Year. Musk is undoubtedly a worthy receiver of the felicitation bestowed upon him.