Elon Musk, between existence and essence

Posted Jan 14, 2023 2:07pm

For months, Twitter’s reverse operation has been staggering. Will the death knell ring for its new owner Elon Musk, lost in his hubris? Although it embodies nanomanagement to the point of caricature, it is not lacking in guiding principles; as if he had adopted the maxim of Montaigne, who, accused of being disoriented, replied: “I only go where I am”.

First off, Musk is doing all of tech a great service by questioning the commitment of Twitter teams. Indeed, this industry has fallen into the trap of an unprecedented productivity crisis. It has taken telecommuting to the extreme, and much of the force has taken advantage of this to work less or even cheat, merging up to six jobs together. To use the maxim of Robert Solow, who saw computers everywhere but productivity statistics, Musk saw developers everywhere but creating lines of code.

Under the astonished eyes of his new employees, he resorts to brutal methods consisting of inquisitions and demands for computer exploits. The Tesla boss is leading the turnaround by putting regulation on the back burner and giving his actions such resonance that no tech boss, especially in front of his investors, can now avoid questioning the performance of his teams. It serves as a useful alibi for all this fledgling industry used to too much comfort.

Many successes, some failures

Some marvel at his ability to revitalize Twitter; maybe they underestimate it. Musk always articulates his thinking between vision and technology. With him, vision reigns supreme, with a planetary and universal vocation that sometimes takes the form of genuine transcendence. And it goes hand in hand with the goal of conquering a disruptive technology with monopoly potential.

This is how humanity becomes multiplanetary with SpaceX and Starlink, but the technological challenge is to dominate the launch vehicle and satellite communications market. Similarly, Tesla is about expanding zero-carbon mobility, but the challenge is to sustainably harness the never-ending revenues of autonomous transportation. With Neuralink, humans must master the artificial intelligence that general intelligence would master, but its chips are intended to be the most immersive technology in the world of the metaverse. It is not for nothing that he invested in the launch of ChatGPT.

True, it partially failed with Zip2 resold to Paypal, a pioneer of internet payments, and with Solar City resold to Tesla, which wanted to encourage self-consumption of electricity through solar panels. And with good reason: he had not found a differentiating technology and thus the corresponding economic model.

He finally abandoned the Hyperloop, the vactrain project of the future, because the social ambition and the appetite of the authorities were not there. But Musk learns as much from his failures as he does from his successes.

Tremendous challenges and daring

On Twitter, the stated intention is to sanctify freedom of expression and reversing the media order. On the technological front, Twitter would become the main gatekeeper with a powerful technological platform serving advertisers and new monetized services such as: an API platform and sandboxes (application isolation) for advertisers and likely devices co-produced with Tesla.

The challenges of relaunching Twitter are immense, especially when you’re bugging competitors like Apple or when you’re combining the management of all these giants in parallel. The task may seem inhuman or unattainable. But with so much boldness and such a divisive personality, one wonders if existence really precedes essence.

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