Elon Musk seems to be a combination of a Horatio Alger hero with Tom Swift — a self-made billionaire with PayPal, he now is devoting his time and energy and his own money to projects like SpaceX and Tesla Motors that sound like the science fiction of the ’50s. Electric cars? Commercial rockets? Capitalism?
Rockets that take off and land vertically?
His newest idea, released after some weeks of speculation, is a super-high-speed train concept he calls Hyperloop. The excitement lasted for almost a day before critics started to decry the idea. Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic manages to sum up both attitudes in two paragraphs:
So, two thoughts on the Hyperloop, which I find to be in tension. First, like anyone who has ever read a sci-fi novel or made the sound “pew-pew” with a raygun made from thumb and forefinger, I think is fantastically cool and wonderful. A pod system that shoots you to LA! Amazing! Even the drawings evoke that ’50s can-do futurism. There’s none of that dark ’60s/’70s technoanxiety in this proposal. None.
He’s right here: Musk doesn’t appear to believe in being limited.
Which brings me to thought two: I worry that more fully baked transportation projects might be put on hold in hopes that Musk’s still-fictional idea works out. Musk’s proposal, because of who Musk is, could serve as a poison dart for California’s high-speed rail, and then nothing comes of it, leaving the state with an outdated passenger rail network and no Hyperloop to make up for it.
His point here being that he’s afraid that the existence of a proposal for a financially sound, technically feasible supersonic train will hinder the development of a financially unsound, 130 m.p.h. train system that will cost ten times as much.
Of such worries are modern “futurist” careers made.