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Elon Musk
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Elon Musk talks memes, Mars, and GameStop in a chaotic Clubhouse chat

The SpaceX founder maxxed out the social networking app’s capacity, and ended up interviewing the Robinhood CEO instead of doing his own Q&A

Last night (January 31), Elon Musk invited fans to join him in a Clubhouse Q&A, where he answered questions about memes, building civilisations on Mars, and COVID-19 vaccines. In the second half of the interview, the SpaceX founder turned interviewer as Robinhood’s CEO joined the chat to discuss the GameStop saga.

Of course, the event was chaotic before it even began. The Clubhouse room quickly reached its capacity of 5,000 people, meaning nobody else could join. As a result, livestreams of the chat began circulating on other social media channels, while overflow rooms on Clubhouse streamed the audio. As Clubhouse is an invitation only social networking app, the external livestreams opened the chat up to a wider audience.

A live blog by TechCrunch detailed what Musk was talking about – starting with colonising Mars, which he previously predicted will happen by 2026. Musk said journeying to Mars would be “hard” for the early pioneers, but added that it’s a matter of keeping the “candle of civilisation alive in the dark”.

Answering a question about whether he believes in aliens, Musk said there was no evidence of their existence, but said it’s “quite possible” that there’s alien technology, which would be at the “iPhone 6 level”.

The Q&A then trailed off into a discussion about memes. “He who controls the memes controls the universe,” said Musk, adding that it’s about what “influences the zeitgeist”. Although Musk doesn’t follow memes himself – instead his friends send him ones they think he’d like – he said he finds them “aspirationally funny” and “very insightful”.

Musk went on to talk about his companies Neuralink and Tesla, claiming that the latter has one of the strongest artificial intelligence teams in the world. With AI, he said, it’s about “how we stay relevant”, adding that “people are already a cyborg”.

In 2019, Musk said Neuralink was working on a “sewing machine-like” device that would provide a direct connection between a computer and a chip inserted within the brain. Speaking about this on Clubhouse, Musk said the company would be releasing new videos in a month or so. He said the value of the early implant would be “enormous” and would “outweigh the risks”.

Discussing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Musk said working remotely had been “tricky” for him, and said of switching between topics on various Zoom calls: “Fear is not the mind-killer, context is the mind-killer.” On the COVID-19 vaccines, he said “there is going to be an avalanche of vaccine” coming this year, and added that he is “not an anti-vaxxer, I am a pro-vaxxer”.

Shortly after this, Vlad Tenev, the CEO of Robinhood, joined the Clubhouse room. Robinhood is the stock trading and investing app that’s been at the centre of the ongoing GameStop saga. Last week, an army of small investors began buying shares in GameStop (via Robinhood) after Reddit users noticed that hedge funds were short-selling the company’s stocks. There’s a helpful explainer on The Guardian here, but basically, these investors are playing Wall Street brokers at their own game, hopefully forcing them into a ‘short squeeze’ and losing them billions of dollars.

Musk interviewed Tenev about the drama, which saw Robinhood block users from buying more stock on Thursday last week (January 28) before restoring trading a day later. “Wednesday of last week, we had unprecedented load on the system,” said Tenev. “A lot of these so-called meme stocks were going viral. People were joining Robinhood, and there was a lot of net buy activity on them.”

Tenev explained that Robinhood received a call from the National Securities Clearing Corporation (NSCC) at 3:30AM on Thursday morning requesting $3 billion “based on some factors including things like the volatility of the trading activity into certain securities”.

“Everyone wants to know, did something shady go down here?” asked Musk. “It seems weird that you get a sudden $3 billion demand at 3:30AM in the morning.”

“I wouldn’t impute shainess to it or anything like that,” responded Tenev, “and actually the NSCC was reasonable. They worked with us to lower it. Anyway, this was obviously nerve-racking. Then there was another call and they lowered it to something like $1.4 billion.” Tenev said the team proposed how to manage the risk throughout the day, “marking these volatile stocks that were driving the activity as ‘position closing only’.” This means bringing the investment to an end. Robinhood later opened it again. The NSCC then lowered the deposit to $700 million, which Robinhood paid immediately. “We want to give people access, (but) we had no choice in this case, we had to conform to our regulatory capital requirements,” explained Tenev.

Watch Elon Musk’s full Clubhouse Q&A above.