Elon Musk: The future we're building -- and boring | TED | Summary and Q&A

May 3, 2017
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Elon Musk: The future we're building -- and boring | TED


Elon Musk discusses his plans for a 3D tunnel network to alleviate traffic congestion and his ambitious goals of making electric cars more affordable and expanding sustainable energy sources, as well as his vision of colonizing Mars.

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Key Insights

  • 🚗 Traffic congestion is a soul-destroying problem that affects people worldwide, and Elon Musk's vision is to alleviate it by creating a 3D tunnel network.
  • 🏙️ The key to a successful tunnel network is seamless integration into the fabric of the city. Elon Musk envisions using elevators and car skates to make tunnel entrances and exits easily accessible.
  • 🚉 The tunnel network will allow cars to travel at high speeds, with the aim of journey times being significantly reduced. For example, Musk believes it will be possible to travel from Westwood to LAX in 6 minutes.
  • 🛣️ Tunnels can be built at various levels to alleviate congestion, and there is no restriction on the number of tunnels that can be constructed.
  • 💰 The cost of tunneling is a significant challenge, but Musk believes that by reducing tunnel diameters and using continuous tunneling and reinforcing machines, costs can be significantly lowered.
  • 🚙 Autonomous vehicles will increase the amount of driving on the roads due to shared autonomy and affordability compared to other forms of transportation.
  • 🏠 The future of sustainable energy includes solar roofs, electric cars, and the increased use of renewable energy sources. Musk believes that almost all houses will eventually have solar roofs.
  • 🚀 Elon Musk's ambition extends beyond Earth to Mars, where he envisions building a city with a million people. This vision is driven by the desire to inspire and ensure a future for humanity beyond Earth.


Chris Anderson: Elon, hey, welcome back to TED. It's great to have you here. Elon Musk: Thanks for having me. CA: So, in the next half hour or so, we're going to spend some time exploring your vision for what an exciting future might look like, which I guess makes the first question a little ironic: Why are you boring? EM: Yeah. I ask myself that f... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What are Elon Musk's plans for the future of transportation?

Elon Musk aims to alleviate traffic congestion by creating a 3D tunnel network and develop electric vehicles that are more affordable and sustainable. He also envisions a fully electric and powerful heavy-duty truck, as well as solar glass roofs that are cheaper than traditional roofs.

Q: How does Musk plan to achieve his goal of colonizing Mars?

Musk plans to develop a reusable rocket system and spacecraft that can transport multiple people to Mars. He aims to establish a self-sustaining colony on the planet and make humanity a multiplanetary species.

Q: What are the key benefits of Musk's 3D tunnel network?

The 3D tunnel network is designed to alleviate traffic congestion by seamlessly integrating tunnels into urban areas. It would allow for high-speed travel and eliminate the need for surface streets, reducing traffic on the roads.

Q: How does Musk's vision for transportation tie in with his sustainable energy goals?

Musk believes that transitioning to sustainable energy is inevitable, and Tesla plays a crucial role in accelerating this transition. The development of electric vehicles and solar glass roofs contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.


In this TED talk, Elon Musk discusses his vision for the future, including tunnels to alleviate traffic congestion, the potential of autonomous driving, the development of sustainable energy, the colonization of Mars, and the creation of brain-machine interfaces. Musk emphasizes the importance of inspiring and appealing futures, as well as the need to take action to shape those futures.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the purpose of Musk's tunneling project?

Musk aims to create a 3D network of tunnels to alleviate traffic congestion in cities, starting with Los Angeles. The tunnels would integrate seamlessly into the city and operate at high speeds, allowing for efficient transportation.

Q: What are the limitations of flying cars, according to Musk?

Flying cars are noisy and generate high wind force, which can be anxiety-inducing and potentially dangerous. Musk also highlights the challenge of managing a large number of flying cars in urban areas.

Q: How does Musk plan to improve the cost per mile of tunneling?

Musk proposes two key changes to reduce tunneling costs. Firstly, he suggests reducing the tunnel diameter, which would lower the cost of tunneling. Secondly, he advocates for continuous tunneling and reinforcing, which would increase efficiency and speed up the process. Musk believes that these changes could lead to an order of magnitude improvement in tunneling costs.

Q: What are the potential benefits of autonomous vehicles?

Musk argues that with shared autonomy, the affordability and accessibility of car transportation would increase significantly. This could lead to a higher demand for car travel and potentially worsen traffic congestion. However, autonomous vehicles have the capability to mitigate accidents and make transportation safer overall.

Q: How does Musk envision reusing rockets for space travel?

Musk's company, SpaceX, has successfully landed and reused rocket boosters multiple times. The reusability of rockets is crucial in making space travel more cost-effective and sustainable. Musk believes that core stages of rockets should be rapidly and completely reusable, similar to planes or cars.

Q: What are the potential benefits of Mars colonization?

Musk sees Mars colonization as an inspiring and appealing future for humanity. It provides a backup plan for human survival and offers the possibility of becoming a multiplanetary species. Musk believes it is essential for humanity to look beyond Earth to find purpose and inspiration.

Q: Why does Musk think being a space-faring civilization is not inevitable?

Musk argues that technological progress does not automatically improve; it requires continuous effort and dedication. He points to historical examples, such as Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, where civilization reached extraordinary heights but then regressed. Musk emphasizes the need for active pursuit of progress in space exploration.

Q: How do Musk's projects, such as Tesla, tie into the goal of sustainable energy?

Musk considers sustainable energy to be inevitable, but he believes that companies like Tesla can accelerate the transition by making sustainable energy more accessible and appealing. The overarching goal is to have a positive impact on the adoption of sustainable energy within a shorter timeframe.

Q: What is the purpose of Musk's brain-machine interface project?

Musk's brain-machine interface project aims to address the potential dangers of advanced artificial intelligence. By developing a direct interface between the human brain and computers, Musk hopes to enhance human capabilities and potentially achieve a higher level of symbiosis with AI.

Q: How does Musk view the importance of beauty and inspiration in his work?

Musk believes that the value of beauty and inspiration is often underestimated. He acknowledges that his projects aim to inspire and provide reasons for people to be excited about the future. Musk intends to encourage humanity to dream bigger and take action to shape a positive future.


Elon Musk's vision encompasses a range of transformative projects, from tunneling to Mars colonization. His passion lies in creating inspiring and appealing futures for humanity. Musk emphasizes that progress and an optimistic outlook require active pursuit and continuous effort from individuals and organizations. By addressing issues like traffic congestion, sustainable energy, and AI, Musk hopes to shape a future that is both exciting and beneficial for humanity.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Musk proposes a 3D tunnel network to alleviate traffic congestion, with the ability to integrate tunnels seamlessly into urban areas and operate at high speeds.

  • He explains his plans for the Tesla Semi, a fully electric and highly powerful heavy-duty truck, and the development of solar glass roofs that are more affordable than traditional roofs.

  • Musk also discusses his ambition to make electric vehicles more accessible and his long-term plan to establish a self-sustaining colony on Mars.

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