It'll take more than tech for Elon Musk to pull off audacious new Tesla master plan

July 25, 2016 by Andrew Maynard, The Conversation
Tesla Model S

Elon Musk – CEO of Tesla Motors – has just revealed the second part of his master plan for the company. And it's a doozy. Not content with producing sleek electric cars (which to be fair, was only ever a stepping stone to greater things), Musk wants to fundamentally change how we live our lives. But the road to Musk's techno-utopia may be rocky.

In 2006, Musk announced his "Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan." Steps one to three were simple and elegant:

  • Build [a] sports car
  • Use that money to build an affordable car
  • Use that money to build an even more affordable car.

But cutting through these was a fourth step that had a much stronger social goal in sight: to develop and "provide zero emission electric power generation options."

This desire to change the world for the better is apparent in "part deux" of the master plan. Steps one to three of the new plan are superficially technological goals:

  • Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  • Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning.

Yet underpinning them is a revolutionary vision for transforming society. Elon Musk doesn't just want to fast-track the transition to renewable energy and self-driving cars – he wants to rewrite the rulebook on how we build a futuristic sustainable society.

Shifting the culture with new technologies

This comes through loud and clear in his fourth step in the new master plan. Once there are enough privately owned fully autonomous Teslas on the road, Musk wants to co-opt them into the "Tesla shared fleet." The concept is as simple as it is audacious: Instead of your Tesla sitting idle in the garage or parking lot when not in use, it would become part of a network of fully autonomous ride-share vehicles – providing driverless lifts for customers on-demand and income for individual vehicles' owners.

Musk's concept is a natural fusion of several trends in technology: autonomous vehicles, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, the sharing economy, to name just a few. Technologically, it makes perfect sense – especially when you throw in innovative solar and battery technologies to keep the fleet mobile and energy-efficient.

Yet to succeed, it 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. Importantly, this brave new world would have to navigate our existing values and cultural norms.

And here's the rub: While Musk and his teams have the technical know-how to implement the master plan, it's not clear yet whether they have the social and political savvy to make it work.

Engineering the social and political landscape

We recently saw a hint of what's to come when a Tesla driver was killed while his car ran on autopilot. Through a combination of factors, neither the driver nor the car's autonomous systems managed to detect and avoid a tractor-trailer across the road, leading to a fatal crash. Despite claims of the autopilot feature reducing the chances of crashes occurring, the incident has got people thinking about the socially acceptable use of cars that remove responsibility for life-and-death decisions from their occupants.

Just going by the numbers, Tesla's autopilot technology makes sense. According to Musk, Tesla occupants using the autopilot feature are statistically safer than those not using it. And the more the feature is used, the better it will get at ensuring the car's occupants are safe – thanks to the machine learning that is constantly enhancing the fleet's auto-capabilities.

But when it comes to technology innovation, numeric logic is often trumped by what we intuitively think and feel is important. As we've seen in discussions around autonomous vehicles, how many people are likely to be killed or injured is often less important than who might be killed (whether driver, passengers or pedestrians), how, and who (or what) makes the decisions. Here, even the argument that autonomous vehicles save lives (and are safer than human-driven vehicles) faces an uphill struggle.

That's not to say that the hurdles Tesla and Musk face in implementing their master plan are insurmountable – they're not. But as Musk begins to implement part two of the plan, he's going to need to become increasingly adept at navigating an ever more complex social and .

Innovating through the wicked problems

Musk appears to be aware of this. In 2015, through the Future of Life Institute (FLI), he backed a US$11 million research program to support the robust and beneficial development of artificial intelligence – an important technology for carrying out his master plan. Included in this initiative is the Strategic Artificial Intelligence Research Center – a collaboration between Oxford and Cambridge universities that aims to help develop policies to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits from .

The tea leaves suggest Musk is thinking broadly about what it takes to develop societally successful technologies. Yet to succeed in his master plan, I suspect he'll need to think more broadly still – and fast.

Part of the issue is that the relationship between technology and society is highly complex and constantly shifting. Successfully developing transformative technologies while benefiting society as a whole leads to what some are fond of calling "wicked" problems – problems that are so slippery they change and shift in response to attempts to solve them. (If you want an example, just look at the introduction and use of genetically modified foods.) Changing society through new solar technologies, and driverless car-sharing will take a lot more than smart technologies, safety research and policy recommendations.

To navigate what is a wickedly complex social and political landscape, Musk is going to need to make friends with people in a whole bunch of new areas, from responsible innovation and the governance of emerging technologies, to technology assessment and risk innovation – an emerging approach to thinking and acting differently on risk. Here, I'm admittedly a little biased, as this is what we do in Arizona State University's School for the Future of Innovation in Society. But we're just a part of a growing global community of experts who are developing the know-how to ensure that emerging technological capabilities are developed responsibly and successfully.

To be sure, Elon Musk's master plan for Tesla Motors is nothing if not inspired. It's visionary, elegant, likely to improve lives and technologically within reach. Yet without coming to grips with the increasingly complex social and political challenges it faces, the plan runs the risk of not getting much further than the metaphorical paper it's written on.

And that would be a shame. Because – implemented responsibly – Musk's vision could be a game changer for how we go about building a more sustainable world.

Explore further: Tesla's Musk says software changes could improve Autopilot

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24 comments

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KelDude
2 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2016
Excuse me but that's a crappy analogy. Acceptance of GM foods is NOT the same as accepting an alternative fuel for a car. We "eat" the GM stuff and get directly affected whereas driving a car is still driving a car. No affect on me like GM foods. I think this article is stretching it a lot to "make an interesting article". Only for the uninitiated.
gkam
1.4 / 5 (10) Jul 25, 2016
This is just an ad for the school. We need to integrate the technology, but this guy fails to understand that concept has already changed, and Musk did it, not these academics.

Do not tie success to the eventual goal of the Tesla Fleet, but see where it really leads us, as we integrate it into our lives.
Uncle Ira
3.9 / 5 (11) Jul 25, 2016
This is just an ad for the school.
For "an ad for the school" it sure is a flop. They did not even name the school.

We need to integrate the technology, but this guy fails to understand that concept has already changed, and Musk did it, not these academics.
What academics are you talking about? The ones that teach in the school that was not named in the "ad for the school"? No-name academics advertising their No-name school on the phyorg, well I'm with you on this glam-Skippy, I am against that.
gkam
1.7 / 5 (11) Jul 25, 2016
We are still catching up to Musk, but the hard work has been done: He has changed the way we will travel. It is a major achievement.

The academics now can help us find the best ways to do it, but they are playing catch-up.

as for the snipers who cannot understand English:

"I'm admittedly a little biased, as this is what we do in Arizona State University's School for the Future of Innovation in Society."

No ads? Did you learn to read?

But you can scream "Couyon!", can't you?
Zzzzzzzz
2.3 / 5 (9) Jul 25, 2016
I like this kind of plan. I may not ever end up being a full participant, but I'm glad there are people thinking this way.

I make plans all the time for the organization I work in. The first thing I know about any plan is that to be a successful plan, it needs to not only accept change but have the ability to change in a very nimble manner. I am sure that Elon Musk knows this. Detractors will always point to change in a plan as a sign of failure, when indeed it is nearly always a sign of success - a sign of a very good plan.

Good for you Elon Musk. Keep on planning. I look forward to seeing where it all leads.
Eikka
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 25, 2016
According to Musk, Tesla occupants using the autopilot feature are statistically safer than those not using it. And the more the feature is used, the better it will get at ensuring the car's occupants are safe – thanks to the machine learning


Musk is pulling smoke and mirrors right there.

The safety figures of the autopilot are not statistically meaningful because the autopilot is only ever on in non-challenging conditions. If for example it starts to rain so the camera and radar become blinded, the autopilot switches off and any subsequent accident then is blamed on the driver.

It's easy to say that less accidents happen with the autopilot is on than off - because it isn't even trying to take on the difficult situations where accidents tend to happen.

The "machine learning" too is just Tesla engineers reviewing accidents and programming in exceptions to the rules. Problem is, theres infinitely many exceptions to add because the AI is fundamentally dumb.
Eikka
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 25, 2016
and Musk did it


Even his original plans have failed, because he didn't manage to turn any profit on any of the cars he's sold and the funding for the next cars have come from investors. His business is not self-sustaining, and the investors are basically buying the cars for the customers.

So the new "masterplan" is just so much the same: promises that he can't fullfill. He's just running his mouth for more hype for more investors to come and pour their money in, while Tesla fails to come up with the goods.

It's downright ridiculous. With the Model 3 factories not yet built, the battery factory not yet built, the solar panel factory not yet built - he's again promising new products: trucks, SUVs, busses - while running behind on his existing commitments and production quotas.

Elon Musk is caught in his own hubris trying to run faster than his feet are carrying in attempts to keep the money coming, and at this rate he'll be soon falling on his face.
gkam
1.7 / 5 (11) Jul 25, 2016
Are you banned in Silicon Valley?

Show us what you and your attitude have accomplished.
Mark Thomas
3.7 / 5 (9) Jul 25, 2016
"the solar panel factory not yet built"

MIT Technology Review is apparently more optimistic than Eikka about the solar panel factory. Importantly, the State of New York has committed $750M to this project, so it is very well-funded.

https://www.techn...factory/

The fact of the matter is that there are no scientific or engineering reason why 22% efficient solar panels cannot be mass produced. By ~2020 I hope to be driving my pre-ordered Tesla 3 on photovoltaic panel-converted sunshine. I can even suggest an advertising campaign for Tesla, it should be called "Driving on Sunshine" and feature a revised song by Katrina & The Waves to help drive home the point. :-)
gkam
1.4 / 5 (10) Jul 25, 2016
We produce PV generated electricity during the day, and take it out at night to charge the car and run the house. Filling up at home is great, and the economy is even better, but the best is the lack of maintenance and the performance of a motor with 100% torque at zero speed.
Uncle Ira
4.1 / 5 (9) Jul 25, 2016
Once again, this thread is not about me,


If you say so.

We produce PV generated electricity during the day, and take it out at night to charge the car and run the house. Filling up at home is great, and the economy is even better, but the best is the lack of maintenance and the performance of a motor with 100% torque at zero speed.

gkam
1 / 5 (9) Jul 25, 2016
We can make it about you, Ira. Ira is a guy who blames the oil and gas industry for ruining the environment where he works on that 9,000 horsepower Diesel boat.
rderkis
1 / 5 (2) Jul 25, 2016
Just because a person is a hypocrite does not change the truth he is speaking. And actually we should believe a hypocrite more than most other people, because they are going against their own self interest.
gkam
1 / 5 (9) Jul 25, 2016
What he said was wrong. He alleged the story did not mention a school. He made a big deal about it.

What were you saying about truth?
Uncle Ira
4.5 / 5 (8) Jul 25, 2016
Ira is a guy who blames the oil and gas industry for ruining the environment where he works on that 9,000 horsepower Diesel boat.


Yeah that is me.

Just because a person is a hypocrite does not change the truth he is speaking. And actually we should believe a hypocrite more than most other people, because they are going against their own self interest


That is not me. The job I do is the cheapest, cleanest, more fuel efficient way of moving the things we move. It would require four to six full trains or 1000 semi-trucks to move the same load, and that don't even include the costs of the infrastructure, you know, rails, right-of-ways, highways and such like.

When they put out the windmill or solar pane powered towboats that can haul 40 acres of barges, get back to me, I will be the first one in line to get a job oiling the windmill or windexing the solar panes.
rderkis
5 / 5 (4) Jul 25, 2016
What he said was wrong. He alleged the story did not mention a school. He made a big deal about it.

What were you saying about truth?


If you use your head you will see I am speaking in general terms. And I did not say he was speaking the truth, I am trying to say "the truth does not change depending on who says it."
marcush
3 / 5 (4) Jul 25, 2016
The cultural shift is already here in Europe. Not nearly so larger % of people own a car compared to the US. Many already use car sharing.
Zzzzzzzz
1.5 / 5 (8) Jul 25, 2016
"the solar panel factory not yet built"

MIT Technology Review is apparently more optimistic than Eikka about the solar panel factory. Importantly, the State of New York has committed $750M to this project, so it is very well-funded...


Eikka often presents his/her posts as though he/she has a great deal of knowledge of the subject matter. From time to time, Eikka posts like this on a subject that I happen to know about. In those instances Eikka's "facts" are not correct - and appear to be based on abstract learning with no experience basis. Eikka would do much better to post more honestly. Eikka obviously does not know anything about planning, nor does he/she appear to have the knowledge or ability to define a successful plan.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jul 28, 2016
Eikka often presents his/her posts as though he/she has a great deal of knowledge of the subject matter.


So, is the factory built or not?

It's not. Its final cost and economic sustainability are completely in the open, and it represents a risk rather than a certainty to Elon Musk.

The problem with the Solarcity plant is the fact that the projected prices aren't keeping up with the curve, even with federal and state subsidies.

Elon Musk promises the new factory makes panels at 55 cents per Watt.
http://www.extrem...ar-panel

PV panel prices projected to fall to 40 cents per Watt in two years. Leading Chinese manufacturers were at 50 cents per Watt in 2014:
http://cleantechn...s-heres/

So the plant is basically obsolete before it's even built, unless they manage to radically cut costs.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jul 28, 2016

The fact of the matter is that there are no scientific or engineering reason why 22% efficient solar panels cannot be mass produced.


They already are - by other companies. A company called Sunpreme makes panels with 22.2% efficiency and is already on the market years before Solarcity and the New York plant, and is cost-competitive right now. Elon Musk is running late to the show, but everyone's focusing on him and his big mouth.

It's much like how Steve Jobs was claiming credit for Apple over absolutely everything other people had done before them, and the investors gobbled it up. Though the difference here is that Apple actually made and sold the devices, while Musk and Solarcity are yet to make any of the panels.

http://www.pv-mag...FjLoaYZD
Sunpreme unveils 500 W bifacial double glass module with 22.2% efficiency

21. October 2014
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jul 28, 2016
Besides, the 55 cents per watt is projected once the plant is in full production. It's going to take longer than 2017 before they reach the full efficiency of scale with all of the plant in operation. In the pilot phase when the plant offically opens, it's going to be 10% of the final capacity.

So again, unless something magical happens and Elon Musk pulls an ace out of his arse, it's more likely going to be another Solyndra.
gkam
1 / 5 (9) Jul 28, 2016
Save your heated breath, Eikka. He is doing it. You are not.

I have an EV, and love it. You do not and are resentful.
rderkis
not rated yet Jul 28, 2016
We "eat" the GM stuff and get directly affected whereas driving a car is still driving a car. No affect on me like GM foods.


I have a strong feeling that if your sons and daughters were dying in your arms(like 90% of the world), you would beg for GM foods that would increase production, keep longer or give them more calories.
And by opposing GMO you are in essence effectively killing those children.
KBK
not rated yet Jul 30, 2016
many a study has shown that many GMO crops are no more robust than the crops they have replaced.

except now we've got GMO food filled with built in pesticides...and soaked in body and gene destroying chemicals. Like Roundup. specifically Roundup. from the nightmare company called Monsanto.

There's almost no place in the western world and other places, where you can go, that a person does not have some concentration level of the known carcinogen Roundup in their body.

That is part of why countries are banning GMO products. It may be called food (specifically Monsanto GMO products), but it's actually a form of slow poison - That has infiltrated everything. The damn thing is so perfect an infiltrating slow killer, you'd swear it was built by humanity hating fascists.

We'd need a thousand pages to show how bad Monsanto really is, it covers so much ground and insanities.

At the end, most here would be ready to burn Monsanto to the ground.

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