Elon Musk crashes 'Westworld' panel at SXSW

The Tesla and SpaceX honcho splashes down for a quick appearance and some words about the inspirational power of space travel.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
3 min read
Elon Musk

Musk waxes poetic about going forth and becoming a star-faring civilization.

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We better hope that when the artificial intelligence apocalypse finally descends on us, it'll be something like "Westworld."

That's the word from show co-creator Jonathan Nolan, who spoke Saturday at the South by Southwest Conference during a panel about the hit series.

"I think we'd be lucky if this was the AI apocalypse, if it was this attractive and charming," Nolan said, noting that while folks tend to think it'll take a super AI to overthrow humans, bots are already manipulating social media users.

The implications of AI comprised just some of the discussion during the panel, which in addition to Nolan featured co-creator Lisa Joy, a cast member or two, and a rocket-fast cameo by tech-minded Renaissance man Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, Tesla and the Boring Company.

After a preamble from Nolan on the aspirational qualities of going to space, Musk walked on stage in the last few minutes to show off a short video by Nolan and Joy. The clip focused on the recent launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, and on Starman, the dummy at the wheel of a Tesla SpaceX Roadster carried into space by the rocket.

"Life can't just be about solving one miserable problem after another," Musk said of space travel's power to inspire. He later tweeted that message, along with the video.

Aside from Musk's brief guest-starring role, the panel included "Westworld" actors Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden and Thandie Newton, as well as moderator Jason Tanz from Wired.

If you haven't seen it, HBO's "Westworld," based on the 1973 film of the same name, is a show about a theme park staffed by androids called hosts. Humans can pay to play cowboy and can get away with killing or having sex with the lifelike robots. Eventually, though, the hosts start remembering the traumatic events they've experienced and the show explores themes of ethics and artificial intelligence and just what exactly constitutes consciousness.

"Westworld" quickly attracted endless internet speculation and conspiracy theories about various plot points.

When asked about the impact of the fan base on the show, Joy said they can't really adjust the stories on the fly based on what viewers might want. Nolan followed up: "We love to fuck with Reddit."


The panel didn't reveal any major spoilers about the new season, which starts April 22, but Wood mentioned there'll be tons of action. Filming it could be grueling, she said.

Marsden said the new season will be a process of the characters creating identities for themselves, replacing the ones created for them for the purposes of the park.

"We wanted to treat ["Westworld"] a little more like a film franchise, and the only way I know to do that is to change the game every season," Nolan said.

So, about that AI apocalypse? In the past, Musk has had plenty to say about artificial intelligence, including that AI might bring about World War III. But at SXSW he stayed mum on the topic, instead adopting a far more optimistic tone as he talked about space exploration.

"To go forth and become a star-faring civilization, to be out there among the stars, to expand the scope and scale of human consciousness," Musk said, "I find that incredibly exciting. That makes me glad to be alive."

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