Love him or hate him, it’s tough to ignore Elon Musk. There was a time when SpaceX and Tesla had catapulted him into the hallowed league of self-styled geniuses. Eccentric, sure. A maverick, definitely. Unpredictable, undoubtedly. But a mind and a vision that were lightyears ahead of their time. With him taking over Twitter, he acquired a new sobriquet. ‘Disruptor in chief.’ His company — and human resources — policies became the eye of a new storm, and he morphed into a man many loved to hate.
Musk attended the World Government Summit (WGS) in Dubai earlier too: in 2017. At that time, he spoke about getting up every morning with a new idea to get him excited; else life, he pointed out, seemed pointless. This year — after his Twitter takeover and resultant controversies — he appeared virtually at a session chaired by Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, UAE Minister of Cabinet Affairs, and Chairman of World Government Summit Organization. It was one of the most keenly awaited sessions at this year’s summit. While many felt that Musk has gotten too ahead of himself, most others believed the neutrality of Dubai’s WGS would make him deliver his best.
And he did. Musk made many statements that become headline-grabbing all over the world. The fact that the much-debated Twitter will get a CEO by the end of this year, once a business model has been adopted. The fact that we should use Artificial Intelligence usefully — and carefully. How his kids indulged in too much screen time. He opened up to an appreciative audience.
But the most important takeaway from his session was not really about Twitter or Tesla or even SpaceX. It was a concern that’s shared with anyone who possesses even half a conscience.
When Al Gergawi asked Musk if he believed there were aliens, Musk was categorical in his denial. No, he didn’t. But his belief in the non-existence of any other form of life has also made him feel troubled: because the onus is one race — the human race — to take care of our universe. “What that actually could mean then is that civilisation and consciousness is like a tiny candle in the vast darkness,” he said. “[It is] a very honourable tiny candle that could easily get blown out... We should therefore take great care with what may very well be this tiny candle and make sure that it does not go out. And that we send the light of consciousness beyond earth and so everything we can to ensure that this light of consciousness does not go out.”
In a way, Musk added to the already potent DNA that Dubai and the WGS have created: to be responsible, mindful, and conscious of the choices we make. It’s on us to create a world that’s exciting and innovative — but while we are doing that, we need to also ensure we follow principles of sustainability and ethicality. It’s up to us to see to it that the very “honourable tiny candle” we hold does not go out.
He may well be the only leader with the standing to convince Palestinians to accept an imperfect compromise, if it means they can finally live peacefully alongside Israel in an independent Palestinian state