From monkey brains to memes, Musk makes wild Clubhouse app debut

Tesla founder and chief Elon Musk called Robinhood’s CEO to ask why people could not buy GameStop shares last week.

Elon Musk also discussed space exploration, emphasising the need to establish Mars as a self-sustaining civilization and ensure 'the long-term existence of consciousness' [File: Brendan Smialowski/AFP]

Elon Musk’s debut on a new social-conversation app was a wild ride, with talk ranging from wiring a monkey’s brain for video gaming to the entrepreneur’s grilling of Robinhood’s chief executive, all while many users were unable to join because of the surge in demand to hear the world’s richest man speak.

Many who tried tuning into Clubhouse, the app backed by venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, ended up on pirated streams that popped up on YouTube and aired the chief executive of Tesla Inc. taking questions from moderators for more than an hour. The invitation-only platform founded last year is one of the hotter commodities in social media and has the potential to become a can’t-miss information platform for journalists, investors and the public, much like Twitter Inc. — a service beloved by Musk.

As news of the billionaire’s impending appearance at 10 p.m. California time on Sunday evening spread across the internet, there was a flurry of tweeting by people seeking invitations to hear him speak. Several “pre-game” rooms — where users can join conversations or just listen — emerged beforehand to discuss Musk’s upcoming appearance.

So it’s no surprise that the moderators, which included tech industry veterans Marc Andreessen and Steven Sinofsky, also convened a “post-game” session, where they talked about how Clubhouse’s platform had been “stretched to its limits” as people sought to join the room with Musk. They said three engineers had been on hand to deal with any issues. They also spoke about bringing on other luminaries, including Bill Gates.

While the limited number of users on Clubhouse — which debuted in March — lends it an air of exclusivity, it’s also starting to grow faster and attract more funding, pushing it further into the news and social-media spheres. It now has an estimated 5 million users, a jump from 3 million just 10 days earlier. Last week, investors including Andreessen Horowitz valued it at $1 billion. Clubhouse raised $100 million in the round, according to Axios.

What Clubhouse offers is a certain amount of clubby intimacy with others on the platform. Some of that is retained when luminaries such as Oprah, Drake or Jared Leto show up. Sunday’s session with Musk was as close as any of his 44.7 million Twitter followers were going to get to a conversation with him.

The session started off with the founder of rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. talking about colonizing Mars and whether he would feel comfortable letting any of his sons to make the journey to the planet. That segued briefly into whether the Netflix Inc. series “The Expanse” was worth watching or not.

“The important thing is we establish Mars as a self-sustaining civilization and that we ensure the long-term existence of consciousness,” Musk said. That naturally led to a back-and-forth about aliens. “I’ve seen no conclusive evidence,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t aliens; I just haven’t seen the evidence.”


Next up was memes. Asked how he “got so good” at them, Musk said: “I love memes. They’re very insightful and symbolism powerfully impacts people.”

Musk then revealed that he gets his memes from two friends. “I don’t follow them; I make them,” he said. “I have kick-a– meme dealers; you have to have a good meme dealer. My friend Mike and Claire. I am the recipient of very interesting memes.”

“People are like, you are going crazy on Twitter,” Musk said. “I was like, I started crazy.”

Monkey Brains

Then the conversation turned to Neuralink Corp., Musk’s startup that is developing a brain-computer interface. The company has put a tiny wireless implant into the skull of a monkey who can “play video games with his mind,” he said.

Musk explained that the goal with the brain-linking technology is to eventually help people who have lost brain capacity because of injury or other maladies with implanted chips.

Videos of the plugged-in simians will be released soon, perhaps in around a month, Musk said.

Bitcoin, Dogecoin

When asked about Bitcoin, Musk first responded that he needed to “watch what I say,” then gave an answer that roiled the price of the cryptocurrency again. “Bitcoin is a good thing,” he said, adding he’s “late to the party” and should have bought eight years ago.

Musk added that he doesn’t have a strong view on other cryptocurrencies and that his comments on Dogecoin — a digital currency named after, what else, a meme — are meant as jokes, adding “the most ironic outcome would be Dogecoin becomes the currency of Earth in the future.”

Tesla’s Suppliers

On Tesla, the electric-car company that’s the source of much of his wealth, Musk had a message for battery manufacturers: make more.

“It’s important to emphasize to our suppliers, we’re not trying to put them out of business, we want them to increase their rate,” said Musk. He announced during Tesla’s “battery day” event in September that the company will begin producing its own cells to supplement more more purchases from outside suppliers.

Achieving Tesla’s goal of selling 20 million EVs a year is significant because that will replace about 1% of the 2 billion cars projected to be on roads by 2030, Musk said, thereby “moving the needle” in the company’s fundamental goal: to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy. That target is quite a stretch, since the world’s two largest carmakers delivered less than 10 million vehicles last year.

“We’re trying to grow car production as fast as possible, but the primary limiting factor there is battery-cell production,” Musk said.

Covid-19 Vaccine

Next was the global rollout of vaccines for the Covid-19 pathogen that has infected 103 million and killed 2.2 million.

There are “too many requirements on who can get the vaccine,” Musk said. While it’s “important for the elderly,” he called for distributing it on a first-come, first-serve basis similar to how the annual flu vaccine is given out because “it’ll get the most amount of vaccines out there.”

While he predicted that because there’s “an avalanche” of vaccines coming, some doses will be thrown away by later this year, Musk has made incorrect forecasts about the virus in the past. He tweeted in March that there would be close to zero new cases in the U.S. by the end of the following month.

Asked if he’s willing to be inoculated, Musk said he is “definitely pro-vaccine.”

Robinhood’s CEO

The seemingly rambling conversation took a different turn when Musk called up Vlad Tenev, CEO of trading app Robinhood Markets Inc., to talk about the restrictions the company put in place last week amid a trading frenzy. “Spill the beans, man,” Musk said to Tenev, introducing him as “Vlad the stock impaler.”

“What happened last week? Why couldn’t people buy GameStop shares?” Musk asked. “The people demand answers and they want to know the truth.”

Tenev said rumors that Robinhood was pressured by Citadel or other market makers to restrict trading on GameStop and other “meme stocks” were false, The CEO said that the restrictions were linked to the National Securities Clearing Corp. seeking $3 billion in deposits, which Robinhood negotiated down to $700 million.

“We knew this was a bad outcome for customers,” Tenev said. “But we had no choice as we had to conform to our requirements.”

The moderators said after the session that Musk had told them he was planning to call on Tenev, who was also a Clubhouse user, and that they had made preparations in advance to make sure he would be able to speak.

Personal Life

At times, the topics turned more personal. Musk has already revealed that he watches “Last Kingdom” on Netflix. “There’s ‘Cobra Kai,’ which is such a sick burn,” Musk said. “They turned the knife. I have to watch it on the treadmill though because I don’t like working out.”

The most poignant part of the conversation may have been when he was asked, “why doesn’t the world have more Elon Musks?”

“I might be getting too much credit. There were sections in life that have been hard and painful and I’m not sure people would want to do that,” Musk said. “If someone was to be me or do things I’ve done, you’re mistaken. You’d have to have some kind of wraith demon in your skull.”

Source: Bloomberg