Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait hosted Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk virtually at the Qatar Economic Forum where he discussed his deal with Twitter, job cuts at Tesla, and the possibilities of recession in the US. The interview lasted almost 20 minutes and Elon was asked multiple questions regarding Twitter, Tesla, AI, and his Political views.
Q. What is the status of the $44 billion deal to buy the company (Twitter)?
A. With respect to the twitter transaction, there is a limit to what I can say publicly given that somewhat (it) is a sensitive matter. So, I will actually be measured with my responses here such as not to generate incremental lawsuits.
Q. Have Twitter given you enough information?
A. There are still a few unresolved matters, you’ve probably read about the question as to whether the number of fake and spam users on the system is less than 5% as Twitter claims, which probably is not in most people’s experience. So, we are still waiting for resolution on that matter. And that is a very significant matter. Then of course there’s a question, will the debt portion of the round come together, and then will the shareholders vote in favor. So, I think those are the three things that need to be resolved before the transaction is complete.
Q. What is the general state of the economy? Does that weigh on you when you think about this? How do you feel about the economy (in America)?
A. I think the recession is inevitable at some point. As to whether there is a recession in the near term, I think that is more likely than not. It’s not a certainty but it appears more likely than not.
Q. Are you worried about whether you can keep those particular two horses (Twitter as a free speech platform and China as they don’t support free speech much) running? Is buying Twitter gonna get you in trouble with the Chinese?
A. Twitter does not operate in China and I think China does not attempt to interfere with the free speech work of the press in the US as far as I know, I assume you are not under pressure at Bloomberg from China, so I don’t think there’s gonna be an issue.
Q. Is there a limit at all to who you think should be allowed onto Twitter?
A. My aspiration for Twitter or in General for the digital town square would be that it is as inclusive as possible and that it is an appealing system to use. So, ideally, I would like to get 80% of North America and perhaps half the world ultimately on Twitter in one form or another that means it must be something that is appealing to people. It obviously cannot be placed where they feel uncomfortable or harassed or they simply not use it. And I think there’s a big difference between freedom of speech and freedom of reach, one(you) can obviously in the United States go in the middle of times square and pretty much yell anything you want and you’ll annoy the people around you but you’re kind of allowed to yell whatever you want in a crowded public place more or less, but whatever you say, however controversial does not need to then be broadcasted to the whole country. So, I think generally the approach of Twitter should be to let people say what they want to do(say), within the balanced law but then limit who sees that based on any given Twitter user’s preferences. So, if your preferences are to see anything or read anything then you’ll get that, but if your preferences are not to see the comments you find offensive in one form or another then you can have that as a setting and not see it. But, in one way or another one needs to take steps that entice most people to want to be on Twitter and enjoy it, find it more informative and entertaining and funny, and as useful as possible.
Q. Is your plan to be CEO of Twitter, and if you do that, would you still keep being CEO of Tesla and SpaceX?
A. I would drive the product, which is what I do at SpaceX and Tesla. Whether I am called the CEO or something else is much less important than my ability to drive the product in the right direction.
Q. Where do you see competition coming from (For Tesla)? (from old car makers or the new ones)
A. I’d say I am very impressed with the car companies and just in general with companies in china. I think they are extremely competitive, hardworking, and smart, and I think there’s gonna be a massive wave of Chinese products going out into the world. For example, almost all iPhones are made in China by contract manufacturers for Apple. But I think we will see a large wave of products being exported from China in many industries. From a tesla perspective, we don’t really think about other competitors. Our constraints are much more in raw materials and being able to scale up production. Our constraints are not imposed upon us by competitors but rather just imposed upon us by the realities of the supply chain and building up manufacturing capacity. As anyone knows who has tried to order at tesla, the demand for our cars is extremely high and the wait list is long and it is not intentional. We are increasing production capacity as fast as humanly possible. So, we really don’t think about the competition at all we just think about how do we address the limiting factors in the supply chain and in our own industrial capacity. Basically, we need to build the factories faster, and then we need to look ahead to whatever the chokepoints are in the whole lithium-ion battery supply chain, from mining and refining to the catheter nonproduction and cell formation.
Q. Is 10% the goal to reduce the workforce? What is the number that you are planning (for layoffs)?
A. Tesla is reducing the salaried workforce by roughly 10% over the next three months or so. We expect to grow our hourly workforce. We grew very fast on the salary side and we grew a little too fast in some areas and so it requires a reduction in the salaried workforce. We are about two-third hourly and one-third salary. So, I guess technically a 10% reduction in the salaried workforce is only roughly a 3%-3.5% reduction in the total headcount. A year from now, I think our head count will be higher in both salaried and obviously hourly but in the short term of the next few months, we expect to see roughly a 10% reduction in the salaried workforce which is actually just 3-3.5% reduction in total headcount and not a super-material.
Q. You’ve indicated that Florida governor Ron Desantis is someone you could get behind if he ran for president. I wonder if you are still in that position and whether you would for instance think about supporting Donald Trump if he were to run.
A. Well, I was simply asked if I had decided on who would I be supporting in the next presidential race and I said I had not decided who I would support then I was asked who might you be leaning towards, and I said possibly Desantis. I think I am undecided at this point on that election.
Q. You talked about putting your money behind a super moderate super PAC in the US and I wondered how much money do you think you’re gonna ouch into that? What kind of support would you push?
A. I have not decided on the amount but it would be some non-trivial figure. I have not decided the exact amount but perhaps would be $20-$25 million.
Q. They again are the people (trump and Desantis), are the people who make a large noise against China and I wondered whether you thought that was also an issue for you in terms of business in China?
A. No, I don’t think so.
Q. Over the weekend, you tweeted, you supported one cryptocurrency. You’ve seen the kind of carnage that has been happening in cryptocurrencies at the moment. What is happening? And do you think people should invest or is it a more selective approach?
A. I have never said that people should invest in crypto. In the case of Tesla, SpaceX, myself did buy some bitcoin but it’s a small percentage of our total cash and near-cash assets. So, you know, not all that significant. I also bought some dogecoin and Tesla accepts dogecoin for some merchandise and SpaceX will do the same and I intend to personally support dogecoin because I just know a lot of people who are not that wealthy, who have encouraged me to buy and support dogecoin so I am responding to those people, just people who have walked around the factory of SpaceX, they’ve asked me to support dogecoin so I am doing so.
Q. You’re going to unleash the humanoid robot to be unveiled on September 30th. If there’s anything more you could tell us about that.
A. Well, I hope we will have an interesting prototype to show people. But, we’re a very challenging team at Tesla that I am working with closely to have a prototype humanoid ready by the end of September, and I think we are tracking to that point, and there’ll be a few other exciting things that we talked about at the Tesla AI day. We have this sort of AI day events to just emphasize that Tesla is a lot more than just a car company and that we are in my view, a leading real-world AI company that exists.
Q. Did you see at all the drama at Google where at least one engineer thought that what was happening in terms of their AI machinery was closer to human thought that hadn’t been seen before, has a personality? Is that something you think about at all or you are worried about?
A. I think we should be concerned about AI and I’ve said for a long time that I think there ought to be an AI regulatory agency that oversees artificial intelligence for the public good and I think just as for anything where there is a risk to the public, whether that’s a food and drug administration or federal aviation administration, federal communication commission, whether it’s a public risk or public good at stake, it’s good to have a government referee and a regulatory body and I think we should have that for AI and e don’t currently, and that would be my recommendation.