Stephenson on Musk


Neal Stephenson’s thoughts on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea (taken from an interview by Daniel Walter; I encourage you to read the whole thing):

“Now let us consider the problem of moving humans quickly, safely, and cheaply between LA and San Francisco. The proposal least likely to get anyone fired, or publicly mocked, is to take existing rail technology and make it a little faster, and so that is the sort of plan that tends to make headway.

Elon Musk is simply pointing out that this isn’t the best way of doing it. To that point, it’s a strictly technological argument. But he’s implicitly making a more interesting point, which is that two cities such as LA and San Francisco ought to be capable of doing much, much better than that. He’s asking what happened to us as a civilization that we are unwilling to even think about doing something that is quite doable on a technical level but sufficiently different from existing technology as to pose a serious challenge to engineers, regulators, financiers, and insurers. His Hyperloop proposal is almost a kind of performance art, in that sense.

I would urge people to consider the Hyperloop not only as a technical proposal but in the way that I think Elon Musk actually intended it: as a question that we need to address as a technological society. Even if your answer is “I’m fine with Victorian railway technology, thank you very much” it’s worth musing over.”


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