“Is that clear?”
Andrew here. Yes, I was surprised at what Elon Musk said at the DealBook Summit on Wednesday — you can see that in the moment from our conversation when he left me temporarily speechless. But I would encourage everyone to watch the entire interview, as we covered so much more than that.
Coming into Wednesday’s DealBook Summit, few could predict what Elon Musk — whose SpaceX, Tesla and X are among the most consequential and talked-about companies in the world — would say. And the famously voluble billionaire delivered.
Yes, there was the moment when, using profane language, Musk denounced companies that had suspended advertising on X following his endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory. (He did try to clear the air, saying he hadn’t meant to support bigots. “I’m quite sorry” if he had encouraged them, he said.)
But over a 90-minute conversation, Musk touched on much more, including what drives him, his fears about artificial intelligence and more.
“Don’t advertise.” Musk accused advertisers of trying to “blackmail” him over his remarks. (Bob Iger, Disney’s C.E.O., had said earlier that being associated with X and Musk was “not a positive” for his company.) After directing expletives at those businesses, Musk then cheekily added, “Hi, Bob, if you’re in the audience.” Linda Yaccarino, X’s C.E.O. whom Musk hired to win back advertisers (and who was at the summit), later posted a more conciliatory message.
“Do you want the best car, or do you not want the best car?” Whether people love Musk or hate him, the mogul boasted about the capabilities of Tesla vehicles and SpaceX rockets.
“A philosophy of curiosity.” Pressed on what drives him, Musk turned contemplative, speaking at length about a difficult childhood and how he has grappled with an existential crisis he first felt at age 12. His answer: Ensure humanity reaches the stars and settles other planets, hence his work at SpaceX. “If you’re a single-planet civilization,” he said, “something will happen to that planet, and you will die.”
“I’m quite concerned that there’s some dangerous element of A.I. that they’ve discovered.” Asked about the recent leadership shake-up at OpenAI, which he co-founded before leaving in 2019, Musk said that he was worried about the speed at which it had been pushing innovation. He predicted that the technology could reach the point of problem-solving like the human brain — so-called artificial general intelligence — in less than three years. (Jensen Huang, the C.E.O. of the A.I. chipmaker Nvidia, reckoned that milestone would take at least a decade.)
“I think I would not vote for [President] Biden.” Musk, who has turned politically conservative in recent years, criticized the president for snubbing Tesla in the company’s green-energy initiatives, despite its leadership in electric vehicles. The billionaire also said that liberals tended to embrace censorship now, anathema to the self-described free speech “absolutist.” But when asked if he would then vote for Donald Trump, Biden’s likely Republican opponent, Musk demurred, saying only, “this is definitely a difficult choice.”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Henry Kissinger dies at 100. One of America’s most powerful diplomats in recent memory, he helped reshape the world order during the Cold War, including by normalizing U.S. relations with China, brokering détente with the Soviet Union and negotiating the end of the Vietnam War. Kissinger was alternately lauded for his accomplishments and castigated for an approach that abandoned American values when deemed necessary.
The U.A.W. unveils its plan to organize nonunionized automakers. The United Automobile Workers union said it was courting potential union recruits at more than a dozen companies, including Tesla, Toyota and Volkswagen, which together employ more than 150,000 workers. Separately, G.M. will cut spending at its Cruise subsidiary after pausing operations there amid concerns about the safety of its autonomous vehicles.
Disney adds two directors as activist investors circle. James Gorman, the outgoing C.E.O. of Morgan Stanley, and Jeremy Darroch, the former head of the British media company Sky, are joining the Disney board ahead of an expected fight with the financier Nelson Peltz. Disney said that Gorman would help with C.E.O. succession planning, a concern of Peltz’s.
Kamala Harris: “If I listened to polls, I would have never run for my first office or my second one, and here I am as vice president.”
The vice president conceded that the White House had “work to do” to convince voters before next year’s election that Bidenomics is working for them but dismissed polling that showed the Biden-Harris ticket trailing Trump in swing states. Harris pointed to the strong labor market and economic growth that outpaced most trading partners — revised G.D.P. numbers released on Wednesday showed the U.S. economy grew 5.2 percent last quarter — but she noted that stubbornly high inflation was weighing on American families. She also hit back at concerns about Biden’s age.
Jamie Dimon: “If you’re a very liberal Democrat, I urge you to help Nikki Haley, too. Give them a choice on the Republican side that might be better than Trump.”
JPMorgan Chase’s C.E.O. voiced his appreciation for Haley, the Republican presidential hopeful who has been gaining in the polls in recent weeks. When asked about the two front-runners, Biden and Trump, Dimon remarked “Oh god,” eliciting some awkward laughs from the audience. He also weighed in on the politics around so-called E.S.G. investing, vowing to “punch back” over Texas’s 2021 efforts to restrict the state’s business with financial firms that embrace environmental, social and governance policies.
Tsai Ing-wen: “My thought is that perhaps this is not a time for them to consider a major invasion of Taiwan.”
Taiwan’s president played down the chances that China would invade the island imminently, saying Beijing was focused on domestic economic and political difficulties. “I think the Chinese leadership at this juncture is overwhelmed by its internal challenges,” she said. Tsai also addressed the chips war, saying that American efforts to bolster its semiconductor sector would not harm Taiwan’s leadership position in the sector.
Jensen Huang: “We are somewhere between a decade or two decades away from supply-chain independence.”
The Nvidia chief said the United States would remain reliant on overseas suppliers, especially Taiwan, for some key chip components for years, even as billions were pouring into domestic production of this vital computing equipment.
Bob Iger: “I did not say they were for sale.”
The Disney C.E.O. spoke about the challenge facing the media giant, from streaming to politics and activist investors. But Iger denied that he was going to sell the company’s traditional broadcast television assets like the ABC network after suggesting he would consider doing so in July. He also addressed the company’s recent box office struggles, which some critics chalked up to audiences tiring of superhero sequels. He defended making the movies, but added that “there has to be a good reason to make them.”
David Zaslav: “The disruption to this business right now is harder and faster than we ever imagined.”
The Warner Bros. Discovery C.E.O. stood by the unpopular moves he has made at the media company, including a shake-up at CNN, firing his friends, shelving productions like the movie “Batgirl” for tax write-offs, and battling Hollywood writers and actors for months in two of the industry’s longest strikes.
Isaac Herzog: “In order to change the equation in the Middle East and change division and the horizon in the Middle East towards a vision of peace, we have to uproot this machine of terror.”
The president of Israel defended the country’s military response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which has left thousands dead in Gaza. He argued that eradicating organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah would make the world safer.
Lina Khan: “I think big-picture success for us looks like making sure the public knows that the F.T.C. is in their corner fighting for them against illegal business.”
The F.T.C. chair, a vocal proponent of a more assertive approach to antitrust enforcement, said the agency must be willing to take more risks — even if that means losing cases — if it wants to fulfill its mission of maintaining a level playing field for business and consumers in America. Her critics have homed in on recent court losses, including a legal challenge to Microsoft’s takeover of Activision Blizzard, as a sign that her approach wasn’t working.
Kevin McCarthy: “The House is like eating breakfast at a truck stop.”
The Republican from California and former House speaker, ousted from the role in October, has not decided whether he will run for re-election, adding it will be “a gut call.” (The deadline to file the necessary paperwork is Dec. 8.) McCarthy discussed the tension among members of his own party and the likely presidential rematch between Biden and Trump. He offered only tepid support for Trump.
Jay Monahan: “I came home and, to my wife’s surprise, I said, ‘Honey, I need help’.”
The PGA Tour commissioner gave his first in-depth public explanation of his mental health struggles following the group’s contentious decision to strike a tentative deal with the Saudi-backed rival, LIV Golf, this year. He also doubled down on his view that finding an agreement was necessary for the sport, noting he would be meeting with Yasir al-Rumayyan, head of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, next week.
Shonda Rhimes: “I’m not watching television, and I know that sounds crazy.”
The prolific producer and writer behind hits like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Bridgerton” said that taking in even great shows could “infect” her own work, and that she has been watching a lot of documentaries and reading. Rhimes also commented on the Writer’s Guild of America strike (she is both a writer and the C.E.O. of Shondaland, a production company). It “wasn’t complicated at all,” she said, adding, “I consider myself to be a writer first and foremost.”
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