I first encountered Elon Musk at a private conference while researching a cover story about the new billions being invested in eco-friendly technologies, “The Green Gold Rush,” published in Metro Silicon Valley 15 years ago this week.
Speaking to a roomful of venture capitalists from firms including Kleiner Perkins and JP Morgan, Musk talked about, among other things, his dream of enabling the colonization of Mars. At the time I had no idea his mind was moving in that direction, was sorta shocked, and expected the idea to land awkwardly. But he received an explosive ovation. He was a hero even before he revolutionized the industry that builds the world’s most poisonous product.
Already an extremely wealthy man, Musk seems to be motivated more by a historical imperative than any strictly business or even classically altruistic purpose. He says he started Tesla “to show the car companies what is possible, and accelerate the development of electric vehicles” overall.
Well, he did that, but the number of people who still think of him as a hero is dwindling. In the wake of Walter Isaacson’s new biography of the world’s wealthiest individual, following years of Musk’s brazenly erratic behavior, he is being attacked, most ardently by former allies in left-of-center field. As a onetime admirer, I wrestle here with a man who seems to be rocketing from brilliant enigma to dangerous nutcase.