Elon Musk worries third World War would ruin Mars mission

Technically Incorrect: In a lengthy interview with GQ, Musk ponders how world wars set technology back.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


"People, stop fighting. We need to get to Mars."

PATRICK T. FALLON/Reuters/Corbis

President Donald Trump becomes very upset because Mexico won't pay for the wall, so he presses the nuclear button.

Vladimir Putin's troops invade Norway because their GPS malfunctions.

Switzerland decides it's tired of being beige and attacks Liechtenstein.

Please forgive me, I'm merely imagining scenarios for the start of World War III. I've been moved to such thinking by Tesla and Space X CEO Elon Musk.

In a new interview with GQ, Musk was asked about his ambitions to colonize Mars -- which he hopes will be achievable through his Space X rockets. He was curiously sanguine.

One shouldn't imagine, he said, that technological progress is a given.

"Most of us instinctively assume that technology relentlessly marches forward, but there have been times before now in human history -- after the Egyptians built the pyramids, for instance, or after the multiple advances of the Roman Empire -- when the civilizations that followed could no longer do what had been done before, and perhaps there's a complacency and arrogance in assuming that this won't happen again," he said.

Complacency and arrogance are, indeed, two characteristics sometimes associated with today's tech industry. Musk, though, fears that a global war could set back humanity in many ways.

He warned that there might only be a relatively short window for a colony to be set up on Mars. He fears events on Earth could mean that technological progress is not merely halted, but actually goes into reverse.

He explained:

I don't think we can discount the possibility of a third World War. You know, in 1912 they were proclaiming a new age of peace and prosperity, saying that it was a golden age, war was over. And then you had World War I followed by World War II followed by the Cold War. So I think we need to acknowledge that there's certainly a possibility of a third World War, and if that does occur it could be far worse than anything that's happened before. Let's say nuclear weapons are used. I mean, there could be a very powerful social movement that's anti-technology.

This might sound fanciful -- or merely the script for another Will Smith movie -- but it's easy to delude ourselves that humanity will always become, as the current popular phrase would have it, smarter.

There's no guarantee.

As individuals, we all do immensely stupid things. Just one look at not only those in power but those vying for it leaves open the possibility that we might make a terrible mess of things.

It's heartening that someone so committed to hyperloops, electric cars and rockets to Mars is still level-headed enough to realize that humans don't always make sensible decisions.

Why else would he be one of those desperate to ensure that the future of artificial intelligence isn't left to (certifiably) mad scientists?