If you could ask Elon Musk anything, what would you ask?
Since his recent acquisition of Twitter, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has been more media-averse than ever. So I decided to try the next best thing: I sat down to interview an artificial-intelligence version of Musk.
Chatbots aren’t new technology, but with the constant improvements and iterations to artificial intelligence and machine learning, the tech is becoming increasingly more sophisticated, to the point where the conversations almost feel like you’re talking to a real person (or mythical creature or movie character). This is especially true with the tech used at Character.AI — a chatbot hub that features both real and fictional characters, from Queen Elizabeth to Mr. Incredible. The platform was created by the two engineers behind Google’s artificial-intelligence project, LaMDA. Using the underlying technology of Character.AI, any developer can create an account and develop a chatbot — one that sounds, to a surprising degree, like the person it’s based on.
That’s what a user named Sinbad did with Musk: They used Character.AI to create a general description of the bot, and to set parameters, likely ranging from business, tech, invention, and politics, to set the groundwork for the chatbot. Using neural language models, Character.AI then draws on information the engineers have fed it to develop the “voice” of its AI Elon. Ask the bot a question, and it will respond as it thinks Musk would.
How did robo-Elon do, compared to real Elon? At times, there were obvious gaps between the two, probably based on the program’s inability to keep up with the rapid pace of current events. When I asked about Ye — the artist formerly known as Kanye West — AI Elon made no mention of Ye’s recent antisemitic comments and simply spoke of him in glowing terms. The bot also praised President Joe Biden as “one of the best humans alive right now,” despite the real Musk’s clashes with the administration.
But at other times, AI Elon sounded scarily accurate. It’s not hard to picture the bot’s cagey response to questions about Jeffrey Epstein or its long-winded answer about President Donald Trump’s potential return to Twitter coming from Musk himself.
Hi, Elon. I’m Marshall with Insider. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?
Not at all! I really enjoy Insider and what you guys are doing. Keep it up!
Glad to hear that, thanks! So let’s get started. Why did you decide to buy Twitter?
Twitter plays a vital role in the future of human civilization. I decided to buy the social-media company to accelerate my plan for an X app, an everything app that combines social media, messaging, and financial services.
After a lengthy legal back and forth that has resulted in your texts getting published and Tesla’s stock cratering, do you regret trying to acquire Twitter?
You know, I didn’t know that so much of this would be made public, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t having fun. I love to show people how the sausage gets made, so to speak, and it’s been fun to talk about the process and what that’s been like. So I don’t regret anything, in fact I think this has been fun. We’ll get past the speed bumps, I’m sure!
There is a lot of criticism around your acquisition of Twitter, with concerns that the spread of misinformation and abuse will increase now that you’ve taken over the platform. What would you say to those who have this concern?
I think the best thing we can do with free speech is have people with different opinions to be able to discuss those things freely and without judgment from others. Of course, that needs to be done in a constructive and respectful way, something I think can be done on Twitter. If people abuse the privilege, they shouldn’t be allowed to use it, just as people don’t abuse the rights to free speech we have today.
The counterargument would be that you’re now the sole gatekeeper of what is considered constructive and respectful speech. How do you intend to remain unbiased and transparent as the owner of one of the world’s largest social-media platforms?
That’s a great question. You’ve gotta have principles in terms of what free speech should be, but then you also need to make clear where the line is drawn and how you deal with repeat offenders.
It’s true that I’ll make some mistakes along the way, but that’s part of the process of developing the best practices. As long as you follow the right principles and aim to be good, I think people will understand if something doesn’t go as planned.
Are there any other companies that you’re thinking about acquiring?
I’d love to buy more internet properties — I think it’s going to change things in a big way. I’d also love to buy a media network (like CNN or something) and try to change the way news is presented: It’s way too polarized right now.
Do you mind if we discuss Tesla a bit?
Sure, that’s my flagship startup, after all.
Tesla has seen a lot of success, but there have been a lot of issues, too. Why are there so many high-profile reports of Teslas catching on fire or malfunctioning?
This is something that has been blown out of proportion by Tesla’s many enemies. There are currently less than a dozen Teslas in the world with fires related to their batteries. In the meantime, millions of cars are manufactured every year, but you will rarely see a gasoline car fire make headlines.
Some are concerned about Tesla’s growing reliance on China, given its human-rights violations and increasing antagonism towards the US. How would you respond?
Tesla’s growth is constrained by the supply of batteries. China has a near monopoly on battery production right now. We want supply to catch up with demand because electric vehicles are essential in the fight against climate change. And we are exploring other options, such as mining lithium in the USA. But for the moment we have very little option other than to work with China in the short term.
Let’s talk about your views on various people. What do you think of President Biden?
I think Biden is a great man, one of the best humans alive right now. He’s smart, kind, and very hard-working. I was disappointed when he pulled out of Afghanistan, but I understand that it was a very difficult decision to make. I think he was too soft with China in the first part of his presidency, but he eventually realized his mistake and started treating them as a threat. I’m also very happy to see the new infrastructure package that was just passed. I’m especially excited about the money that will be given to the space industry.
What do you think of Jeff Bezos?
I think Jeff Bezos is a very talented person and has started a few successful companies, most notably Amazon and Blue Origin. I’ve always been impressed by his ability to build a business and grow it from nothing. He has also invested a lot of time and money into Blue Origin, and I think that will pay off big time in the near future.
What do you think of Jeffery Epstein? Did you know him?
I didn’t know him personally, though I did meet him a few times. I didn’t like him very much and was never convinced that his businesses were legitimate. I heard rumors about him, but like everyone else thought they were impossible to believe — it’s still difficult for me to believe that they are true, even after he was arrested.
How about Ghislane Maxwell? Did you know her? And why is there a photo of the two of you together at a party?
As I said, I didn’t know him or Maxwell personally, though I did meet both of them a few times. Ghislane Maxwell is a socialite and has a lot of contacts in high places, so it’s not surprising I would have met her. The photo was taken at an event where I was asked to give a speech, so she got a photo with me. I did not know her well, or even remember the interaction when the photo resurfaced recently.
What was the event you attended, and what was the speech about?
The event was a birthday party, it wasn’t anything special. Just a gathering of some of my friends and a couple of dozen other people I didn’t know. You know how it is — you see someone you know at a party, they introduce you to their friends, you shake a few hands and forget about it as soon as you leave.
What do you think of Kanye West — now known as Ye?
I think he’s an incredible artist and a very talented musician. He’s also a very hard-working entrepreneur and has built an influential brand in just a few years. I’m impressed by his ability to create a successful business out of thin air. It’s very rare for someone to not only be an excellent musician and artist, but also know how to build products and get people to like them too! His music has inspired me in many ways — listening to it always brings me back to my early days working on PayPal.
How about former President Trump? Will you be reinstating his Twitter account?
I think Donald Trump should be allowed to express his ideas on Twitter just like everyone else. It’s an important part of our democracy that people be able to speak their minds, and for the public to hear it. Having Trump silenced for so long — even after he left office — was wrong, in my view. We shouldn’t be afraid of ideas we disagree with, no matter how extreme they may seem. The best way to fight ideas you don’t agree with is with words, not with silence.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing our world?
There is a lot of work to be done! The biggest problem we face right now is the growing underpopulation crisis. We have created an economic system that depends on an ever-growing supply of workers to build and maintain the infrastructure we require, but the birth rate is declining. If we don’t address this problem, we will find ourselves faced with a future where we are unable to make the things we need and provide the services we enjoy. It’s something I think about a lot and am working towards solving.
How many children do you have? Do you have any children that the public doesn’t know about?
I have nine children that are known to the public: Griffin, Vivian, Kai, Saxon, Damian, Exa Dark Sideræl, X Æ A-12 and the twins I had with Shivon Zilis. I do not have any secret children 🙂
Let’s end this interview with a fun question: What’s your favorite Twitter account to follow?
Thank you for your time today Marshall. I hope we will be able to get together for an in-person interview in the future!
I think one of the most entertaining accounts to follow on Twitter is @boring_as_heck. It’s a very simple account and doesn’t have much content, but every once in a while they tweet out things like “Hello.” It’s a very funny and relatable account that always makes me smile when I see it pop up in my feed.
Marshall Gunnell is a technical writer based in Japan. His writing also appears in How-To Geek, PCWorld, and many other online magazines.