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Walter Isaacson: Elon Musk Is a Genius When It Involves Engineering, Not Human Emotion

For Walter Isaacson, Elon Musk was the subsequent logical topic. The biographer-of-geniuses wrote the definitive e book on Steve Jobs, the Apple cofounder who “introduced us into the private digital revolution.” The following large revolution, in response to Isaacson, “was life sciences, the flexibility to edit our genes”—which led him to the trailblazing biochemist Jennifer Doudna. A number of years in the past, although, he was trying round, questioning what the subsequent innovation can be. “To me, there have been a few ’em: sustainable power, AI—making our robots secure—and area journey. Musk was a trifecta for that.” (This was earlier than Musk, the cofounder of Tesla and SpaceX, would purchase Twitter, hearth most of its workers, rename the platform X, and kind of kill what was left.)

On Monday night, Isaacson was chatting with Richard Stengel, who served within the Obama administration as beneath secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, on the Perelman Performing Arts Heart, the swanky new cultural establishment on the World Commerce Heart web site. There, Stengel and Isaacson, who’ve been pals for greater than twenty years, mentioned among the storied biographer’s previous topics and Isaacson’s whirlwind two years embedded with Musk.

Musk, one of many world’s most divisive (and richest) individuals, is clearly alive; his story has continued to play out past the ultimate chapter of Isaacson’s e book. These days, that story has included amplifying antisemitic conspiracy theories and telling advertisers who boycotted X over such incendiary content material to “go fuck” themselves. “He actually is a genius on the subject of materials properties, on the subject of engineering,” stated Isaacson. However he’s “not a genius” on “human feelings.” Isaacson attributed this partially to the billionaire’s “brutal upbringing,” in addition to the truth that Musk is “on the autism spectrum.” Musk first publicly disclosed his Asperger’s syndrome analysis whereas showing on Saturday Evening Dwell in 2021.

Isaacson, the previous editor of Time, chair of CNN, and CEO of the Aspen Institute, stayed away from discussing Musk’s current controversies throughout Monday evening’s occasion. However in sharing insights gleaned whereas reporting the biography, he provided some explanations for the conduct. Take Ukraine, for example; one of many greatest revelations to come back out of Isaacson’s e book was that Musk, in response to a passage within the biography, “secretly ordered his engineers to show off his firm’s Starlink satellite tv for pc communications community close to the Crimean coast final 12 months to disrupt a Ukrainian sneak assault on the Russian naval fleet.” The passage was in an excerpt revealed a number of days earlier than Elon Musk got here out in September, prompting an outcry and main Musk to explain that the “Starlink areas in query weren’t activated. SpaceX didn’t deactivate something.” Isaacson then went on to “clarify” the matter on X, additionally telling New York journal that he had “misinterpreted” Musk. “I assumed he had simply made that call. In reality, he was merely adhering to a coverage he had beforehand applied,” Isaacson wrote to the publication. Whereas Stengel and Isaacson didn’t get into all of this on Monday, Isaacson did say: “He loves taking part in superhero on the world stage. I imply, he’s Captain Underpants.” Final month, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict and accusations that antisemitic content material was flourishing on his social platform, Musk visited Israel and met with high leaders, together with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

By Marc J. Franklin.