What to make of Elon Musk’s hyperloop announcement?

by on July 22, 2017 at 2:27 am in Current Affairs, Philosophy, Religion, Science | Permalink

Adam Ozimek asks me:

How should we think about this in a meta-rational sense? https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/20/16003766/elon-musk-boring-company-hyperloop-nyc-philadelphia-baltimore-dc

…What should we make of it?

To be clear, I have never had interaction with Elon Musk, so I intend these as general possibilities, rather than as commentary on his individual personality:

1. There are some people who on Twitter will just “fuck with us.”  Precisely because they have done a lot in the so-called “real world,” they just don’t take Twitter that seriously.

2. Some very successful people are programmed to rhetorically overreach.  This makes them the center of attention and furthermore keeps them motivated.  They don’t apply the same kind of “reality filter” to their rhetoric that a scientist might.

3. Sometimes exaggeration is used to distract from pending failures, a’la Trump, and this process may include self-distraction.  (Tesla?)

4. Exaggeration is a way to keep the hyperloop on the agenda and in the mindset of the nerdy public.  Eventually that will help make the hyperloop possible.  Speakers with this motive often think of themselves as bootstrapping the reality, rather than “making stuff up.”

Most of talk isn’t about reporting the truth! In this sense the tweet isn’t surprising at all.

And what the heck is “verbal government approval” in a world with federalism, multiple layers of environmental review, NIMBY homeowners, and courts of varying jurisdictions? I like to think the tweet might be an act of sarcastic protest, or Straussian meta-commentary born out of frustration, but somehow I suspect neither of those is the case.

1 Stormy Dragon July 22, 2017 at 2:39 am

I think it would take way longer than 29 minutes to build an underground NY-DC Hyperloop system.

2 Thiago Ribeiro July 22, 2017 at 6:40 pm

Maybe he will use three aorkers’ shifts.

3 Matt July 22, 2017 at 2:58 am

“And what the heck is “verbal government approval”

Someone said to him, “Hyperloop? Yeah, sure. Sounds good. Get working on it.”

4 Dick the Butcher July 22, 2017 at 7:38 am

They don’t have enough money to provide a cost-of-living increase for social security annuitants.

So, that “verbal government approval” is as good as the paper it’s written on.

You know it will not cash flow, right?

This guy made billions on taxpayers’ subsidies and Wall Street behavioral economics, and persists in coveting more of our money.

5 Alain July 22, 2017 at 11:15 am

He did give us some pretty sweet cars, that’s impressive.

6 bmcburney July 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm

I think you are using the words “us” and “give” incorrectly.

7 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz July 22, 2017 at 1:36 pm

Well it is not illegal to dig a hole as long as he was able to acquire a continuous strip of land between those cities, more power to him. However, I think it was a pretty Boring announcement. It is the type of thing you should not announce until it is completed.

8 Brett July 22, 2017 at 1:38 pm

It means he’s going to maybe try building it until somebody tells him to stop, he runs out of money, or he gets bored with it and shifts to something else – or all three.

9 steve sailer July 22, 2017 at 4:49 am

“Hyperloop? Yeah, sure. Sounds good. Get working on it.”

Sounds like something Trump would say.

November 2020 headline:

“Trump Carries Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and DC Electoral Votes as Media Elite Dump Acela for Musk-Trump Hyperloop”

10 Dick the Butcher July 22, 2017 at 7:45 am

She’ll win big in NYC and DC anyhow, In 2020, Hillary will “win” the popular vote by 6,000,000 additional fake votes. She’ll still lose in the Electoral College.

11 prior_test3 July 22, 2017 at 8:22 am

What is this obsession with a loser?

It is starting to get just a bit creepy, to be honest.

Clinton is a has been, and it seems bizarre to think she will be the presidential nominee of the Democrats in 2020.

12 TMC July 22, 2017 at 10:32 am

YOU think obsessions are creepy? lol

13 JWatts July 22, 2017 at 9:43 pm

“YOU think obsessions are creepy? lol”

He think’s obsessions in other people are creepy. I suspect h thinks his own obsessions are some form of speaking truth to power.

14 Evan Harper July 22, 2017 at 8:40 am

> tfw you have history’s most fiendishly effective fake-vote machine but you keep forgetting to point it at Florida and Pennsylvania instead of California and Texas

15 Rich Berger July 22, 2017 at 10:33 am

Well they did ask for info for all states, so why not Pa and Fl?

16 John de Rivaz July 22, 2017 at 5:21 am

Eventually an influential person will discover that it is more sensible to move minds not bodies. This idea was broadcast on BBC television by an influential person in 1965.
http://www.alecharleyreeves.com and click on sound from Horizon programme in the menu.
Or see a shortened version of the sound over a video background on You Tube
However in 1965 no appropriate technology was available, and Reeves’ prediction that it would happen by 2000 was too early. The introduction of the smartphone has temporarily driven things in a different way. People use these as a mobile office to save wasting the time spent hanging about waiting for travel connections.
But soon totally immersive virtual reality will be linked with 360 degree cameras and connected to the internet. Eventually these vast travel systems will fall silent, the planet’s temperature will cease rising, and the air will become clearer again.

17 Ray Lopez July 22, 2017 at 5:35 am

TC says: “3. Sometimes exaggeration is used to distract from pending failures, a’la Trump, and this process may include self-distraction. (Tesla?)

Tesla? Hmm… Whenever I view this excellent Epic Rap Battles of History video “Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison. Epic Rap Battles of History Season 2” I think of TC as Edison. Go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ1Mz7kGVf0

See the @1:00 min mark “So dope I even make New Jersey look good”. LOL! TC is from NJ. This video is outstanding because every verse and images (Edison dancing are an allusion to Edison’s Black Maria film studio) are drawn from the bios of these two greats, with puns at every level (Tesla’s ‘stole me from mankind’ is from a chapter from Margaret Cheney’s bio of Tesla; the ball lightening is from Tesla’s experiments; the ‘I have Reddit’ pun is the support Tesla gets nowadays from nerds on Reddit). The triple or quadruple pun at the end by Tesla is also very good, “Curse the Con Edison with every utility”. Excellent video at every level. And watch how Edison (Tyler!) out-dances the stylish Tesla at the end.

18 TMC July 22, 2017 at 10:34 am

I think he meant the car, which would be a failure without all the subsidies. Funny to put “a’la Trump” in there though. Seems like it would be better in #2

19 AE July 22, 2017 at 6:14 am

Don’t underestimate Musk’s abillities to actually make this happen.

He (Tesla) restarted the electric car. He (SpaceX) is the leader of advanced rockets for space travel. He (The Boring Company) has already performed several proof of concepts regarding the Hyperloop.

I mean.. building a tunnel is easier than a space rocket?

20 Crikey July 22, 2017 at 6:43 am

Space rockets are easier. You people know people who could get a satellite into space with a bit of funding, but I doubt you know anyone who could do a major tunneling operation. The Chunnel cost around $420 million per kilometer while a SpaceX launch is only something like $61 million. I think the only thing harder than boring usable tunnels tens of kilometers long at a depth deep enough to leave surface structures undisturbed would be getting permission and land to build a new rail line to Sydney Harbour.

21 JK Brown July 22, 2017 at 9:43 am

It’s not a tunnel, it’s a pipeline and look how easy it’s been to build pipelines in the relatively sparsely populated Midwest. Musk is good with technology, pipelines are politics whether they move oil or little sleds of people.

22 Crikey July 22, 2017 at 8:41 pm

The hyperloop is like a pipeline, at least over most of its length. The tunneling is another thing Elon Musk has proposed.

23 Ricardo July 22, 2017 at 10:51 am

How much private sector business is SpaceX doing these days? SpaceX is a pretty remarkeable accomplishment but let’s not oversell it: rockets are a 50+ year-old technology and Musk is introducing much needed-competition into it. It remains to be seen whether SpaceX can substantially lower the cost of access to space in practice, though.

24 9797697696 July 22, 2017 at 1:09 pm

45% of all global commercial contracts for the year 2017. It is supposed to go to 65% next year. This is according to a graph with no source mentioned that Musk posted on his twitter feed not so long ago. If this is true it’s quite an accomplishment.

25 dearieme July 22, 2017 at 6:34 am

I assume that Mr Musk is selling flapdoodle.

26 Mark Thorson July 22, 2017 at 12:28 pm

I have psychic government approval to build the world’s largest flapdoodle manufacturing plant on BLM land in the middle of the desert. Prove it ain’t so.

27 The Other Jim July 22, 2017 at 7:45 pm

Indeed. People more terse than Tyler would call this “putting out BS to get attention.”

See also “Russia hacked the election” and “we have no more than five years to save the Earth”.

28 rayward July 22, 2017 at 7:02 am

It’s an admissipn that autonomous vehicles will need their own right of way disguised as something else. Of course, he is raising the issue of a public/private partnership, the government paying the costs and the private collecting the revenues. Musk, the consummate salesman, makes it sound so futureistic and wonderful, to divert everyone’s attention, even the always perceptive Cowem.

29 rayward July 22, 2017 at 7:18 am

Of course, autonomous vehicles running on their own right of way is a euphemism for transit. I actually support the deception: is there any chance America would invest in transit absent the deception.

30 Todd July 22, 2017 at 7:39 am

In some of Elon’s detailed comments about tunneling in the Ted Talk linked below, he has stated that tunnels will be way below any infrastructure and completely undetectable from more than two tunnel widths away, including with the most sophisticated sensing equipment available. There will be no need for above-ground right-of-ways, (except for where it surfaces with elevators in the proposed cities), dealing with eminent domain, NIMBY, etc. I won’t pretend to know the regulations, but part of this “deal” may be that the federal government has, or will try to legally claim that due to the depth, no local permissions are necessary. I don’t know if local/U.S. law specifies a depth limit to jurisdiction. We will find out.


31 JK Brown July 22, 2017 at 9:47 am

“part of this “deal” may be that the federal government has, or will try to legally claim that due to the depth, no local permissions are necessary.”

That sounds a lot like decades of court proceedings. Plus, in many jurisdictions landowners have mineral rights and such, so how far does that extend down.

32 Roy LC July 23, 2017 at 12:17 pm

It extends to the center of the earth. You literally take each point along the property boundary and direct it straight dow with a plumb line. It used to be “Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos”, but the Air Force got the ad coelum part changed.

I know an mining attorney who jokes that it works as long as you don’t find a dead indian, but with a boring machine you won’t even going to know if you ran into one. Anyway, while I have seen vertebrate bones in a drill core, dead indians and archeological sites are generally only an issue for surface excavations.

33 Evans_KY July 22, 2017 at 7:43 am

Verbal government approval. Hilarious. Poor Elon.

First point: Government works by bidding out contracts and then taking the cheapest/shittiest offer. Novelty might get you a pass, but then a government official would have to write a request for exemption that requires them to stick their neck out for you.

Second point: Why would you believe anything coming out of the White House?

34 anonymous July 22, 2017 at 7:57 am

..”Why would you believe anything coming out of the White House?”

Quite true. Y/day Spicer came out of the White House. Who would believe him ?

On the other hand


35 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 22, 2017 at 10:14 am

Spot on. The only person thinking he could give “verbal approval” for a project actually spanning many federal, state and local regulatory bodies would be in this White House, and quite unreliable.

I frankly can’t answer Tyler’s question, too crazy.

36 Axa July 22, 2017 at 8:53 am


Tesla model 3 reviews should be available and discussed right now…….but the CEO prefers to talk about hyperloop.

Can the CEO of a publicly traded company be this shady? Zero accountability

37 Thiago Ribeiro July 22, 2017 at 9:10 am

“And what the heck is ‘verbal government approval’ in a world with federalism, multiple layers of environmental review, NIMBY homeowners, and courts of varying jurisdictions?”

Maybe your president tweeted about it, he does it sooften. Ours doesn’t, he is busy working for because we pay his wage.

38 chuck martel July 22, 2017 at 9:15 am

Elon Musk, the Music Man comes to River City.

39 responsible D July 22, 2017 at 3:19 pm


40 Bill July 22, 2017 at 9:31 am

The guy is risking fraud claims.

Big ego on a slow news day.

41 ABV July 22, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Who would he be defrauding out of curiousity? At this point he owns 100% of the Boring Company. So..himself?

42 Bill July 23, 2017 at 8:22 am

I guess the fraud will be exposed when he does his first public offering and has to disclose that he didn’t have an approval. Good point though..

What about his bankers?

43 anomdebus July 22, 2017 at 9:33 am

I am reminded of this scene from Airplane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7fchtEJpy8

44 Sergey Kurdakov July 22, 2017 at 9:50 am

anyone who was alive at the end of Soviet Union – would recall an absurd confession of one of the heroes from Georgian film ‘Repentance’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repentance_(1987_film) ‘I planned to dig a tunnel from Bombay to London’

45 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 22, 2017 at 10:22 am

Apparently I, in California, will be helping to pay for a crazy big tunnel.

Mega engineering lives, there is no great stagnation.

40 feet diameter, 150 feet deep, 30 miles long, under a river delta. $15B.

46 TMC July 22, 2017 at 10:43 am

Well the rest of s are paying for California’s mass transit boondoggle. Has that been killed yet, I hope?

47 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 22, 2017 at 10:54 am

I don’t like passenger trains for America in general, because they don’t match our population density or land use. (Even if you could zip to LA’s Grand Central Station, then what? Uber through LA traffic?)

That said, if you are really concerned about stagnation, it is important to be trying shit.

The California high speed rail is shit, to be tried.

Btw, I hope no one is pro hyperlink and anti high speed rail. Neither capitalism, nor tunnels, nor Musk are enough secret sauce to overcome density and land use patterns.

A new city of the future in Iowa might be different. Build the down around the transport. A sprawled megacity with hyper subway.

48 Anonymous July 24, 2017 at 11:19 am

NE US is the only place where both work

49 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 22, 2017 at 10:55 am

Build the “town” around the transport.

50 Thomas July 22, 2017 at 1:11 pm

And assign people to the town, Comrade!

51 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 22, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Lots of semi libertarian hybrid approaches. Build the subway, sell the land with anti-zoning covenants.

52 Ricardo July 22, 2017 at 10:33 am

Cost is key. Metro systems created by tunnel boring machines cost at least a few hundred million dollars per mile. Tunnel boring machines have been around since the Victorian era and the technology has improved but it remains a fairly expensive way to build roads and train lines.

53 nigel July 22, 2017 at 11:01 am

Tyler’s analysis is spot on. I don’t know what to make of this either, but the relevant question is Musk’s psychology, not physical reality. This is clearly some kind of publicity stunt or self deception; there is no such thing as verbal govt approval. Ever, anywhere, at least in the US.

I get a little frustrated with the whole Musk phenomenon. Is the guy really that smart? I mean far as I can tell, he’s the ringleader of the cockeyed optimists known as Silicon Valley that are duping basically the whole world into subsidizing their lifestyles, and basically their only marginal value-add for the last 30 years has been building an infrastructure with which big business and big govt can spy on everyone. Yeah Alexa really improves everyone’s quality of life. Sure….

Everyone believes these guys have magic powers, but they look like a bunch of hucksters to me. People don’t trust their own reason so they think these guys can do anything. It’s like the way Jesse treats Walter white. So they’ll pour money into their projects but jury’s out on whether they’ll succeed. Is tesla just another juicero? I mean does it really deserve to be worth more than major auto companies that actually sell cars to the entire country? Isn’t it basically hemorrhaging money? I suspect the reason nobody made a hyper loop yet is the same reason nobody made high speed rail yet in this country. Too big a web of sunk property rights and entrenched interests. We sunk an incredible amount of capital into the car infrastructure and it’s very hard to pivot out of that once all that capital has been used a certain way. Of all the types of capital, real property is the least homogenous and liquid. You build a subsidivision, and you don’t just tear it down once all the lots have been sold and the houses occupied. I mean even Detroit, the city doesn’t just shrink, it becomes vacant and a legal nightmare. It isn’t because people weren’t thinking outside the box and only musk has gnostic knowledge. It’s because for some reason everyone is willing to substitute his fiat (and the rest of Silicon Valley) for their own reason.

54 nigel July 22, 2017 at 11:06 am

On reflection, I like that idea a lot. Silicon Valley as gnostic cult. Zero to One is an ur-text. I like Peter thiel but that book is a gnostic manifesto. The “secret” is what you believe that everyone else doesn’t that gives you special powers. You heard it here first.

55 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 22, 2017 at 11:09 am

The classic pairing was Steve and Woz. The manic over-promiser and the dour, but genius, producer.

Silicon valley would be much poorer if there were not a few dozen producers for every manic leader.

And we would not be holding these gadgets.

56 nigel July 22, 2017 at 11:18 am

I definitely don’t dispute they’ve built a lot of unbelievable technology. The question is whether it’s all over-valued at the margins. I think for sure. There are a lot of people getting rich out there on personality, and as the investment hot potato game goes on we’ll see who is left holding the bag. Secondary purchases are in vogue now instead of IPOs so probably dumb money, rather than the public at large. Sovereign wealth funds and rich but not well-connected Americans. Probably a good thing.

Also, I do seriously doubt the value of these gadgets. By that I mean I think the consumer is probably overvaluing them. It’s like tobacco companies up until the last 40 years. We’d be saying man those tobacco companies are doing the world a huge favor! Look at their profits! And indeed they’d achieved feats of organization, production, and distribution. It required a lot of ingenuity and intelligence and even some technology. And the consumer loved it. Until we realized it was killing us.

57 John July 22, 2017 at 11:08 am

Big Bertha costs are at least $1.65 billion per mile. LA Subway at least $1 billion/mile. The Chunnel came in at $2/3 billion/mile, but that 20+ years ago. I say at least because I do not believe even a small fraction of the ancillary costs have been included. Musk is of course just puttering around with this concept (his words), and hasn’t looked closely at it. For example, his statement that a boring machine only bores for 1/4 the time, and the rest is taken up by lining and reinforcement, is ignorant of current technology. But he himself said he has no idea what he is doing.

58 Ricardo July 22, 2017 at 12:26 pm

+1, if Elon Musk can substantially reduce the cost of boring tunnels deep underground, he could demonstrate the technology in any number of cities (including in the developing world — think Bangkok or Jakarta) that would love to have more extensive metro tunnels or underground expressways for cars but simply cannot afford the cost. Tweeting about hyperloops is just cheap talk.

59 Mike W July 22, 2017 at 11:45 am

You’re overthinking this, he’s just campaigning/promoting/lobbying/marketing. In a subsequent tweet he said, “If you want this to happen fast, please let your local & federal elected representatives know. Makes a big difference if they hear from you.”

60 David P. Carleton July 22, 2017 at 12:26 pm

I for one would love to see him try building this. There’s a whole range of soil conditions to contend with; all kinds of rock, some of which are very difficult to penetrate; ground water that people use for drinking; fields of porous rock containing hydrocarbons (natural gas), etc. Sure I’d love to see him try – and we’ll see what happens. It could be quite a show!

Oh, and Amtrak will take him to court for encroaching on their franchise.

61 Dzhaughn July 22, 2017 at 12:53 pm

This is poor covfefe. He didn’t say “government,” he said “govt.”


62 Brett July 22, 2017 at 1:35 pm

#2 or #3. Musk likes getting attention for doing Big Cool Things, and there’s always some outlets that will breathlessly report on it either positively or negatively. I don’t know that he’s definitely done it to distract from bad news as well, but it kind of feels like it sometimes. I remember him rolling out the proposed Interplanetary Transport System around the same time that he was taking some heat over the financial side of Solar City, and labor conditions at the Tesla Factory.

63 Bob July 22, 2017 at 2:06 pm

I think Musk is not being Straussian here (he is not the straussian kind), but Trumpian. Hyping helps him. His circle has strengths, but as far as I know, his circle isn’t exactly great at the immense regulatory power required to do what he wants to do. The best I know at this business in SV would find the work to get that Hyperloop approved to be daunting indeed.

I’d much rather be pessimistic here, and expect this to be a step towards raising money, which he desperately needs if he wants to make the hyperloop into anything. Tesla has low capital requirements in comparison to a hyperloop, and while I’d not go as far as to say that he is broke, his muscle here is nowhere near as strong as it would have to be.

64 Boonton July 22, 2017 at 6:21 pm

And what the heck is “verbal government approval” in a world with federalism, multiple layers of environmental review, NIMBY homeowners, and courts of varying jurisdictions? I like to think the tweet might be an act of sarcastic protest, or Straussian meta-commentary born out of frustration, but somehow I suspect neither of those is the case.

If you want to put a deck on your house, there’s no doubt a simple form for that with a very clear set of steps you have to follow to get the necessary approvals. But what happens when you’re building something with no form? Something no one has figured out how to do yet?

Well one solution is to ask everyone else to come up with the process to follow. That will no doubt take forever. Most will simply say ‘denied’ because, after all, you’re application isn’t to put a deck on your house. The other solution is to go forward lining up ‘approval’ from the people you want to approve it. If the Mayor or Governor says it’s ok, then go forward.

With that technique bureaucratic inertia works in your favor. If the governor says it’s ok the guy who runs the department that approves new decks is probably going to ignore it as it isn’t his job. You’ve bypassed him completely….he will not cause you any trouble unless his department wants to take on the effort of making a case that they have some regulatory power. Now sooner or later you will run into problems. People will object to you running a tunnel under their land, there will have to be approvals but it would be easier if you build a consensus ahead of time that this has been ‘given the okay’….

65 CorvusB July 22, 2017 at 7:18 pm

If any part of this project proves out, it will be a large technological step forward. The tunneling concept alone is a good thing to work experimentally on. An intercity super-fast subway, if it can be made to work, should be more efficient than flight, and ultimately cheaper.

66 Ken July 22, 2017 at 8:42 pm

NOTHING musk does is cheaper.

67 Steve_a July 23, 2017 at 2:15 am

This is simply entrepreneur over-optimism with perhaps some component of trying to leverage the regulatory environment. Musk has the technologist’s disease of seeing the possible and not understanding why everyone else is complacent. There is a huge number of technologies that could be exploited much more fully, but there is substantial capital required and risk involved to effect those visions. This is particularly true in areas that involve atoms not bits — there are a many technologies ripe for a Musk, someone smart and capable of exciting the capital markets. Many will rise in China because of that complacency. As I’ve gotten older and lived through a number of start-ups, I’ve increasing appreciated the pure contingency of technological progress. Two examples related to Musk: electric cars would ramp a decade later without him, and without him we wouldn’t be looking at reusable rockets or a US satellite industry as large as it is. All these things will happen eventually, but two or three decades difference in onset matter.

68 Shanu Athiparambath July 23, 2017 at 6:44 am

Why take this so personally?

69 Hazel Meade July 23, 2017 at 11:22 am

Usually when approval is merely verbal it comes with the unstated commandment not to tell anyone about it.
I can’t imagine Musk doesn’t know that, so I’m going to guess #4. It’s not like there are any hyperloop competitors out there who around going to cry foul, so there’s not much risk in publicly announcing it to keep the hype going.

70 Mark Bahner July 24, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Yes, #4 is my guess, too.

All the city governments are chiming in that they haven’t granted permission 🙂 :


71 seb July 26, 2017 at 6:25 am

up all night – bbc 5 live radio.

one hour and 38 minutes approx. into programme – extended audio interview with hyperchariot head honcho – rollercoaster-style space travel inside vacuum tube (if I correctly understand the techs).



72 Grant July 26, 2017 at 9:52 am

Musk would be an interesting person for Conversations with Tyler.

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