Our conversation began with a discussion of public-relations people. Musk burns through PR staffers notoriously fast, and Tesla was in the process of hunting for a new communications chief. “Who is the best PR person in the world?” he asked in a very Muskian fashion. Then we talked about mutual acquaintances, Howard Hughes, and the Tesla factory. When the waiter stopped by to take our order, Musk asked for suggestions that would work with his low-carb diet. He settled on chunks of fried lobster soaked in black squid ink. The negotiation hadn’t begun, and Musk was already dishing. He opened up about the major fear keeping him up at night: namely that Google’s co-founder and CEO Larry Page might well have been building a fleet of artificial-intelligence-enhanced robots capable of destroying mankind. “I’m really worried about this,” Elon Musk said. It didn’t make Musk feel any better that he and Page were very close friends and that he felt Page was fundamentally a well-intentioned person and not Dr. Evil. In fact, that was sort of the problem. Page’s nice-guy nature left him assuming that the machines would forever do our bidding. “I’m not as optimistic,” Musk said. “He could produce something evil by accident.” As the food arrived, Musk consumed it. That is, he didn’t eat it as much as he made it disappear rapidly with a few gargantuan bites. Desperate to keep Musk happy and chatting, I handed him a big chunk of steak from my plate. The plan worked … for all of ninety seconds. Meat. Hunk. Gone.
It took a while to get Elon Musk off the artificial intelligence doom-and-gloom talk and to the subject at hand. Then, as we drifted toward the book, Musk started to feel me out, probing exactly why it was that I wanted to write about him and calculating my intentions. When the moment presented itself, I moved in and seized the conversation. Some adrenaline released and mixed with the gin, and I launched into what was meant to be a forty-five-minute sermon about all the reasons Musk should let me burrow deep into his life and do so while getting exactly none of the controls he wanted in return. The speech revolved around the inherent limitations of footnotes, Musk coming off like a control freak, and my journalistic integrity being compromised. To my great surprise, Musk cut me off after a couple of minutes and simply said, “Okay.” One thing that Musk holds in the highest regard is to resolve, and he respects people who continue on after being told no. Dozens of other journalists had asked him to help with a book before, but I’d been the only annoying asshole who continued on after Musk’s initial rejection, and he seemed to like that.