Elon Musk, between existence and essence

Written January 14, 2023, 2:07 p.m

For months, Twitter’s turnaround operation has been staggering. Will it sound the death knell for its new owner, Elon Musk, lost in his hubris? If it embodies nano-management into caricature, it does not, for all that, lack guiding ideas; as if he had adopted the maxim of Montaigne, who, accused of lack of direction, replied: “I only go where I am”.

First of all, by questioning the level of engagement of Twitter teams, Musk is doing a huge service to all tech. Indeed, this industry is caught in the trap of an unprecedented productivity crisis. It has taken telecommuting to the extreme, and a large proportion of troops have taken advantage of this to work less, or even to cheat by combining up to six jobs. To use the maxim of Robert Solow, who saw computers everywhere except in productivity statistics, Musk saw developers everywhere except in producing lines of code.

Under the astonished eyes of his new employees, he resorts to brutal methods, made of inquisitions and demands for computer exploitation. The head of Tesla leads the turnaround by putting rules in the background and gives such a resonance to his action that no tech boss, especially in front of his investors, can now escape the question of the efficiency of his teams. It serves as a useful alibi for this whole young industry accustomed to too much comfort.

Many successes, some failures

Some wonder about its ability to revive Twitter; maybe they underestimate it. Musk always formulates his thinking between vision and technology. With him, the vision is ultra-strong, with a planetary and universal call, sometimes in the form of a genuine transcendence. And it systematically goes hand in hand with the goal of capturing a disruptive technology with monopolistic potential.

With SpaceX and Starlink, humanity thus becomes multi-planetary, but the technological challenge consists in dominating the market for launch vehicles and satellite communications. Similarly, with Tesla it is a question of scaling up carbon-free mobility, but the challenge is to sustainably capture the infinite income of autonomous transport. With Neuralink, humans must dominate the artificial intelligence that would master general intelligence, but its chips are intended to be the absolute immersive technology in the world of the metaverse. It is not for nothing that he invested in the start of ChatGPT.

Admittedly, it partially failed with Zip2 resold to Paypal, a pioneer in internet payments, and with Solar city resold to Tesla, which aimed to promote self-consumption of electricity through solar panels. And with good reason: he had not found a differentiating technology and therefore the relevant economic model.

In the end, he abandoned the hyperloop, the vaktrain project of the future, because societal ambitions and the public authorities’ appetite were not there. But Musk learns as much from his failures as his successes.

Enormous challenges and audacity

With Twitter, the stated intention is the sanctification of freedom of expression and the overthrow of the media order. On the technology front, Twitter would become the main gatekeeper with a high-performance technology platform to serve advertisers and new monetized services, such as digital identity, an improved search engine, connecting traffic, link to Web3 with cryptos and NFTs, an API platform and sandboxes (application isolation) for advertisers, and probably devices co-produced with Tesla.

The challenges of relaunching Twitter are huge, especially when you annoy competitors like Apple or when you combine the management of all these giants in parallel. The task may seem inhuman or unattainable. But faced with so much audacity and such a divisive personality, one wonders if existence really precedes essence.

Leave a Comment