Elon Musk and Ethics

I read a biography on Elon Musk awhile back. It was fascinating. He seems like a super smart, super driven, and genuinely concerned individual. Though, I clearly don’t know Musk or his motives.

I was troubled, however, recently when I watched a progress update about Neuralink. Neuralink is a company that has Elon Musk as one of its founders and is “developing implantable brain–machine interfaces.” Neuralink is working to invent “new technologies that will expand our abilities, our community, and our world.”

In the video update, Musk said he is concerned with our “species.” He speaks of “what we [humanity] would want.” He was presuming about the “sum of our collective will.” He talked about “the future of the earth” being “controlled by the combined will of the people.”

It reminded me of something perceptive C.S. Lewis said:

“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under the omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” 

It seems to me that Musk and his team have good intentions but an ethicist was eerily absent on the panel. And they spoke of such things as erasing fear and pain. One of the guys on the panel said he’d like to study consciousness and simultaneously dismissed all writings on consciousness in the last thousand years.[1] That was very concerning to me. To sweep away a whole history of thought on a subject, even one as confusing as consciousness, in a mere fleeting moment is concerning. It speaks to the panelist’s pride and unreasonableness. As well as to what Lewis referred to as chronological snobbery

One can have knowledge and intellect and be absent of wisdom. And history teaches us that science, even good science with good goals, can bring about terrible things. We can see this by looking at the origin of the Nobel Prize.

Briefly, Alfred Nobel was refereed to as the “merchant of death.” Among his inventions was dynamite. “Merchant of death” was not the reputation he wanted. So he funded the Nobel Prize in order to change his legacy.

Nobel’s intention was not to be a “merchant of death” but nevertheless his technology of dynamite led to the death of many. Technology itself is not wicked, but sometimes those who wield it are not wise and sometimes they are wicked and use technology in devastating ways.

Also, concerning is that Musk seems to be a naturalist and determinist.[2] He talks about what the collective will of the world is. That, to me, is concerning. Especially from someone that believes they are doing good and yet, at the same time, have no basis for believing in the concept of good.

As amazing as Elon Musk is, in a lot of ways, he and his programs need ethics, and I would argue transcultural and transtemporal ethics.

My kids in my home need reminded and held to the transcultural norm of love and truth and if they don’t follow those norms my house is in unrest. How much more Musk and Neuralink?!


[1] He said, ““There’s a lot of really silly philosophy that’s been written about [consciousness] over the last thousand years.”

[2] Musk said, “The universe started out… hydrogen and then after a long time… well, what seems like a long time to us, that hydrogen became sentient. It gradually got more complex… We’re basically, you know, hydrogen evolved. Um, and somewhere along the way that hydrogen started talking and thought it was conscious” (See the 51:46 timestamp in Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020). If we are merely evolved hydrogen that think we’re conscious, how can we possibly make sense of our world? Is not then everything random? How can we trust our minds? That’s akin to trusting a random paint splash to relay truth. They’re both random chance processes with no real significance.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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