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Nikola: How to Parlay an Ocean of Lies into a Partnership with GM (hindenburgresearch.com)
477 points by aripickar on Sept 10, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 409 comments



It does sound pretty bad, doesn't it? The guy certainly seems to have a problem with telling the truth. I think it's crazy to compare him to Musk, since Musk is actually extremely smart and knowledgeable about multiple areas of engineering. This other guy is just parotting the same lines, like "we are an advanced energy company that just happens to sell cars!". It's like the cargo-cult version of Tesla without any interesting technology or innovation. All that being said, I hope the author of this write-up has a good lawyer!


Musk has also had some interesting/uneasy relationship history with the truth. This guy does seem to be taking it quite a bit farther and leaving a lot more daylight visible between his statements and the truth.


Not close to the same thing.

Musk has a history of building and shipping successful products company after company in spite of a constant amount of people saying he would fail. (X.com, Paypal, Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, Boring).

Nikola is a complete fraud that collected money from know-nothing investors riding on EVs and Tesla's name. They haven't shipped anything and probably never will. Bizarrely positively portrayed in the press alongside negative Tesla stories - I imagine because it's good for clicks?

I find it hard to believe the SPAC that brought them public wasn't solely for the purpose of allowing them to steal as much as they could from the public before they shut down. No idea how well they played it - I guess we'll see if anyone ends up in prison.

At least he got to con his way into a fancy ranch in the mean time: https://www.latimes.com/business/real-estate/story/2019-11-1...

People like this make the world worse for the rest of us (and make it harder for honest startups to raise money).


Honestly it's testament to the people in Musk's inner circle and his engineering departments more than the man himself. I'd say he is really good at associating with clever people and organizing collaborations. At the end of the day, he is a billionaire who makes headlines because of the irony of the fact that he probably has ADHD and trolls on twitter and seemingly doesn't care about his reputation, while also heading all these companies. He's a loudmouth cowboy, which is like the archetype American hero.

Some people are attracted to rich arrogance more than anything. It's why people pay money to read fluff piece autobiographies ghostwritten for billionaires. It's why people like martin shkreli still have strong fanbases on the internet. Tesla may be a good company, but good companies are not built by one person, and fanboys are usually blind to that fact.


Doesn't the job of a CEO basically come down to:

  1. Don't (permanently) run out of money
  2. Get a bunch of capable people together and organized
  3. Point them in a good direction
By those measures, he's killed it repeatedly.


> Doesn't the job of a CEO basically come down to:

> 1. Don't (permanently) run out of money

> 2. Get a bunch of capable people together and organized

> By those measures, he's killed it repeatedly.

The problem with fraud and lies is not that they don't work. They work great. That's the entire reason people do them.

The problem is that they stop working after a while.

The dream scenario for fraudulent fundraising is that you make so much money with your pitch that you can make your lies a reality before too many people catch on.

As anyone who is familiar with kickstarter knows, it rarely works out that way.


The question is when extreme risk becomes outright fraud.

So if any random startup with some guy/gal with some positive track record claims that they'll do X ... let's say Magic Leap claims they'll paint black, or Openwater claims they'll read minds without invasive surgery just with IR light and an ungodly amount of CT-like singal processing for image reconstruction (founded by Mary Lou Jepsen, who has pretty extensive "moonshot creds" by creating the Pixel Qi display, which I knew nothing about until recently), etc.

At what point this becomes fraud? Well, of course we know the moment the founder/employees/interested-parties start faking things that are not true. Yes, sure, but when does simply painting a rosy picture becomes Theranos-level scam? After all Theranos' founder convinced seemingly competent people when she was 19 old about something truly risky. How? Her father was a vice president at Enron. Also she had Stanford's name next to her. (She got Channing Robertson, her ex-advisor and dean of School of Engineering at Stanford, to back her idea in or before 2005.)

And all is well as long as the founder is truthful, even if he/she is extremely biased. (As in we'll make this work by next week. And next week they say they'll make it work next week. Repeat a thousand times. No problem, because being a maximally biased estimator is not in itself being untruthful. Even if it's an extreme sign of metacognitive defects.) The problem starts when the founder claims that something works in such and such way, but that's not actually the case.

I think even the very murky territory of not disclosing previous failures can be simply signs of bias. (As in I'm not telling you about how we fucked up the last twenty iterations of our magical product, because I think the tests were very bad, and you'd get a very unfair impression of our marvelous idea, so I'll just say we're working on it, and let you decide solely based on that.) Of course if you agree to report progress, you agree to keeping lab notes, but then you destroy them or purposefully stop writing notes, that's bad.

I don't know anything about Nikola, other than that they are pushing hydrogen fuel cells and battery powered vehicles, plus building their own water-splitter network along key routes.


The GP is defending Musk not Nikola.


4. Repeatedly accomplish the above with people and a constantly changing environment


Musk has history of building and shipping products, yes.

But he's also no stranger to fraud, lies and defrauding investors. Solar roof is best example of that ([1] and [2] talk about it, but there's more stories about it).

Solar roof was 100% fake product, that was shown only to justify fraudulently bailing out his other insolvent business. Years later, Tesla still doesn't have solar roof product (they do some solar roof installation, of roof made by Changzhou Almaden, Chinese company [3]).

[1] https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2019/08/28/1566985766000/The-gre...

[2] https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/09/solarcity-was-in...

[3] https://www.pv-tech.org/news/changzhou-almaden-supplying-tes...


Tesla buying Solar City was put to a shareholder vote (I voted yes along with the majority). Those shareholders should be happy now with the outcome of letting Musk do what he wants.

I'm not convinced any of this rises to fraud and none of it is close to what Nikola is doing here.

The solar roof also does exist and they install it, I'm not sure how that's fraud? https://www.tesla.com/solarroof because they buy parts from China?


> Tesla buying Solar City was put to a shareholder vote (I voted yes along with the majority).

Elon staged fake product presentation a month before the vote to gain support for the acquisition [1].

> Those shareholders should be happy now with the outcome of letting Musk do what he wants. > I'm not convinced any of this rises to fraud and none of it is close to what Nikola is doing here.

It's not a fraud because it worked? Same as Nikola - if they end up delivering some products in the end and their stock will keep on going up, then they it doesn't matter that they lie now?

> The solar roof also does exist and they install it, I'm not sure how that's fraud? https://www.tesla.com/solarroof because they buy parts from China?

Tesla still doesn't produce any type of solar roof, that was suppose to be their huge technological advantage. It's same as if Nikola instead of producing their vehicles will become dealership for Nissan Leaf.

Main difference between Nikola and Tesla now is that Tesla did deliver some products so far, but both companies are using hype and lies to gather funds and generate more hype. Given how much founding Nikola gathered so far, unless the whole EV bubble explodes, they'll also likely deliver some products.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/28/musk-deposition-stockholders...


> Elon staged fake product presentation a month before the vote to gain support for the acquisition.

> It's not a fraud because it worked?

It's not fraud because I don't buy your claim that it was a fake product presentation solely to gain acquisition support and the article you link doesn't even support that.

> Main difference between Nikola and Tesla now is that Tesla did deliver some products so far

"Some products" - they've sold hundreds of thousands of cars, built out a supercharging network, and a battery factory, while also making progress on autonomous driving at the same time. They were the first to prove this market against enormous odds and constant negative press.

Nikola has produced nothing but bullshit. I think the Tesla stock is crazy right now and I also think Elon's timelines are often unrealistic, but the amount of anti-elon anti-tesla sentiment in the face of success after success against enormous odds is wild to me.


> It's not fraud because I don't buy your claim that it was a fake product presentation solely to gain acquisition support and the article you link doesn't even support that.

"Shareholders also allege in the suit that Musk planned the unveiling of a product that didn’t yet function"

This allegation is based on what they already admitted to:

"Still, the company does acknowledge that the demos Musk unveiled at Universal Studios were not functional" [1]

> "Some products" - they've sold hundreds of thousands of cars, built out a supercharging network, and a battery factory, while also making progress on autonomous driving at the same time. They were the first to prove this market against enormous odds and constant negative press.

Tesla did a lot of good stuff, I'm not denying it, and they've made EV cars desirable for certain people. But it doesn't change the fact, that their operating mode is "fake it till you make it". And they sometimes do, often don't. They also "had" coast to coast self driving car since 2017, battery changing, alien dreadnought factory, with robots speed limited only by air resistance, panel gaps that are snake chargers, 620 miles range in 2017, 500k model 3 per year in Fremont, ventilators production, etc, etc.

> Nikola has produced nothing but bullshit. I think the Tesla stock is crazy right now and I also think Elon's timelines are often unrealistic, but the amount of anti-elon anti-tesla sentiment in the face of success after success against enormous odds is wild to me.

Because Elon and Tesla is massively overpromising. To point, that they're straight up lies.

Do they deliver some good stuff in the end, and have areas where they actually have technology advantage? Often they do, yeah. But that doesn't make up for the fact, that their business is build on hype and overselling their abilities in all the areas.

[1] https://www.fastcompany.com/40422084/inside-steel-pulse-the-...


When Dropbox was presented to the VCs, I think it was just a powerpoint. Does that mean that it was fake ( according to your logic). Musk is just using standard startup methods used in modern startups.


It all depends on what the actual claim is. If Dropbox said look we did the math, did some ghetto-testing with mockups and an IT guy up-downloading your stuff in the background using ssh and sftp and hardcoding the filenames into todd.html and jane.html, and we think it'll be amazing, give muniz kthxbai. That's okay.

If did a demo with that method while claiming that it's the real thing running on 100 servers already with thousands of users ... well, that would be fraud.

What Musk communicated (said, implied, gesticulated, telepathed) at that demo regarding Solar Roof? He mentions production process, implying that it's real. He talks a lot about an integrated future, blabla. Is it a concept unveiling like what automakers do each year that then becomes nothing? Well, not exactly after all they take deposits for it. But "obviously" it's dumb. Having so many small tiles just kills cost efficiency. (Because every tile basically has a panel and needs a small connector, makes roofing slower, etc.)

I'm fairly sympathetic to the claim that all these startups are big piles of BS .. but at the same time it's not like they are so different from what other companies pull off as business-as-usual. See Google's demos that then go nowhere. See how phone and laptop makers over-promise and then constantly under-deliver, let's say with regard to battery capacity and life. Or game companies releasing trailers and doing demos at E3 and then years later the product is nowhere near finished and eventually the finished looks much worse.


You don't need to manufacture a product to sell it. He might have been developing it, then someone beat him to it. Instead of spending on R&D, he gets to just buy it from a manufacturer and use his name to sell thousands.


This. If you have done research and know that you can build it for sure, then you already have a product. It doesn't matter if it has not been manufactured.


> Solar roof was 100% fake product

They have a number of installations in California that were done for real clients and are fully functional. It may not be viable or scalable, but it is absolutely not fake. It is an actual product that works.


What they install now is Chinese solar roof. What they Elon showed during presentation was 100% fake.

"Still, the company does acknowledge that the demos Musk unveiled at Universal Studios were not functional"

(https://www.fastcompany.com/40422084/inside-steel-pulse-the-...)


Not yet manufactured doesn't is not the same as fake.


Would a business offering food replicators (the Trek kind that materialise energy into food) seem fraudulent to you? Would they be selling a fake product or just not have manufactured it yet?


The difference is intent. A company could be run by a crackpot who sincerely believes that he can create a food replicator and states irrelevant qualifications. His process involves spending day after day drawing paper schematics and putting it in a literal black box. It would never work and couldn't be manufactured but it wouldn't be fraud.

Making the same claims of goals and taking the money and running? Fraud.


What, in your mind, is fraud if announcing fake products as real does not qualify?


Jeez, what will it take to convince the Musk haters that he's the real deal? I mean, what does a guy have to do to prove it? Launch his car into Mars orbit using his own rocket? Oh wait....


You misread your third link. They supply the passive non-solar glass tiles, not the solar tiles. The solar tiles are manufactured in Boston.


Placing Neuralink and Boring on the list of successful companies is a bit premature.


Do neuralink or boring have successful products? or just demos of already existing tech?


Aren't neuralink and boring private corporations? Aren't billionaires allowed to throw money at whatever they fancy, and these kind questions specific to only public corporations?


They are undoubtedly allowed, but the question is important because OP mentioned Neuralink and Boring as things Musk "shipped".


Demos of existing tech are even better than what Nikola has.


In general yes, but the Solar Roof Tile thing is still vaporware despite the demo.


> Do neuralink or boring have successful products? or just demos of already existing tech?

Are complex, difficult, expensive products or services usually built and launched quickly? Do they occasionally require long cycles of iteration? Maybe the iPhone should have been thrown away at version one.

It's 2005, does the Falcon 9 exist yet? Geez, we're waiting. It's obviously all vaporware, a fraud, they could hardly launch the Falcon 1 without it exploding every time.

It's 2009, does the Model S exist yet? Geez, we're waiting. It's obviously all vaporware, a fraud, they'll never mass-manufacture electric vehicles.


The Boring company was also a fraud the way it was originally presented. Musk sold it as this unique new technology they were making, when in reality they had bought some 3rd party machines and flown them in from China.


More of a joke than deception. They sold flamethrowers for heaven’s sake.


Hyperloop isn't a fluke?


What's the fluke part exactly? It's perfectly doable, but the (risk-weighted) costs are just enormous.


I agree. Real artists ship. Musk ships.


If you change some people's names, company names and technology names, you could make this an article that's talking about Theranos.


How are you judging SpaceX, Neuralink, & Boring to be successes? They’re fine companies with good products, but none of them have fulfilled Musk’s original stated goals: going to Mars, transhumanism, and networks of tunnels for mass transit, respectively. When people say those companies will fail, I imagine the argument is that they won’t achieve these goals. Which, for the time being, is still true. Although it’s true that at least Musk actually builds things.

(Some bold takes? Level 5 self driving cars the way we commonly envision it won’t ever come to fruition, SpaceX will never go to Mars, transhumanism will never come to pass, and hyperloops won’t either. You can come back in 5 years and gloat if I’m wrong.)


SpaceX is an essentially unprecedented success by any reasonable definition of success in the modern space launch services market.

If you want to minimize their obvious accomplishments based on Musk's own incredibly ambitious long-term (decades out) goals, feel free, but that's pretty dumb because it's essentially meaningless relative to the rest of the market. If ULA were already sending colony ships to Mars, maybe you'd have a point, but they aren't.


> SpaceX is an essentially unprecedented success by any reasonable definition of success in the modern space launch services market.

Sure. I agree.

> minimize their obvious accomplishments based on Musk's own incredibly ambitious long-term (decades out) goals

Outside of the Silicon Valley bubble, that’s called “holding people accountable to the goals they set.” And I’m happy to give him decades, he still won’t achieve transhumanism, Mars travel, and the like.


You aren't "holding people accountable to the goals they set" in any useful way—and in return for the "Silicon Valley bubble" comment, which I suppose is meant as a slur against me for saying what I've said here, I'd like to invite you to get over yourself.

Setting extremely ambitious goals and trying your level best to achieve them is a virtue, not a vice. If you let some weird disdain for Silicon Valley (which is in fact a place/state of mind which I do not inhabit and whose culture I strongly dislike) rob you of your ability to get excited about great efforts toward building great things and/or solving great problems, that's nobody's problem but your own.


>Setting extremely ambitious goals and trying your level best to achieve them is a virtue, not a vice.

That only holds true up til the point where your loud (public) ambitious goals are the reason for ticket sales.

Once there is financial motive for setting ambitious goals, you lose credit for the ambition -- it becomes driven by profit.

SpaceX is literally taking queries for the sale of private Mars tickets[0].

I have a hard time considering the sale of tickets to a now-technologically-impossible-future-event that may be possibly hundreds of years away from our present time as altruistic.

If I made a website and sold tickets to the "Nicest place to sit and observe the apocalypse when it occurs." for hefty profits i'd be driven out of town. No way I could know where that might be or when it might occur; the entire premise is faulty.

A guy launches a rocket or two and suddenly his opinion, against the majority of the rest of science and engineering by the way, claims we're going to Mars soon.

Sure, he's more believable than some random person saying it, i'll give you that -- but the promise of Mars is something that I and many others consider to be so unlikely in the immediate future that we view the promise as akin to a lie or fraud; and Musk has done little to assuage the very real technical fears behind the mission other than with vagueties like "Well, it's an engineering challenge." or "We'll have to discover new ways of doing X".

Yes, that's true, new method and procedures will inevitably need to be developed -- but dismissing such feats as minor is not only in poor taste, but short-sighted when trying to plan a timeline for when these events may occur.

I think this shortsightedness is intentional, and for profit. He can claim the world, profit from it, and deliver very minimal results that are nothing compared to the promises.

You see this behavior over and over in the management of early Tesla, too.

[0]: https://www.spacex.com/human-spaceflight/mars/


Does SpaceX really have the common man lining up to be fleeced for vaporware Mars tickets? Not really, as far as I can tell. They may have taken money from some very rich people who presumably understand the speculative nature of what they're paying for, e.g. the "Dear Moon" thing, which is by the way entirely within the realm of current technological possibility. We already sent humans to the moon, several times. Fifty years ago. SpaceX has definitively proven that they know how to build things that go up and things that come down and things that keep people alive in space. You do the math.

Beyond that, I really just don't see the angle of Musk as a con man. He's a maniac—literally, manic—and that certainly comes through in the aggressive and sometimes unrealistic nature of the promises he makes, but accusing him of being somebody who would settle for delivering "very minimal results" just seems to ignore the reality of the man himself, both the personality traits he's clearly displayed (and I don't mean that in an entirely positive way) and more importantly the results he's already delivered. They are not "minimal". He's delivered unprecedented upstart success and unprecedented innovations at scale in two markets that have been dominated by incumbents essentially since their inception. That's not a man looking to spin a web of lies and hype and then cash out. In fact he seems to be in a very small class of extant business leaders who've actually done something worth talking about besides being very rich and overseeing incremental (valuable or not) progress.

You and "many others" are free to think whatever you want about the technology, and I'd probably agree with you to some extent on many points, but it kind of undermines your status as an impartial skeptic when you show so clearly that you have an axe to grind. And why? I really just don't get it. I would never work for Musk in his current form, and I don't own any products made by any of his companies, and I think he's guilty of treating some of his factory workers quite badly, but I give credit where credit's due and you should, too. It's not about endorsing him, what he stands for, how he treats workers, his opinions on COVID-19, or whatever else—it's simply about seeing the world clearly.


> SpaceX is literally taking queries for the sale of private Mars tickets[0].

The only thing close to 'private Mars tickets' is the footer which says: "For inquiries about our private passenger program, contact sales@spacex.com". That sounds like a very generic "If your problem is having too much money, we can help!" kind of sales pitch.

> If I made a website and sold tickets to the "Nicest place to sit and observe the apocalypse when it occurs." for hefty profits i'd be driven out of town.

If you're a company that sells private bunkers and you have a page on your website about a possible apocalypse, then no one will fault you for having a generic "For inquiries about our private bunker program, contact sales@bunkerx.com" footer.


They've already mass-produced orbital rockets which are the cheapest way to space, put a payload out past the orbit of Mars, landed multiple orbital boosters simultaneously and produced the first production full flow staged combustion engine. Alone those are incredible achievements but they also have a viable pathway to Mars, the Moon or other bodies in the solar system. I expect they'll land cargo around 2024 and send humans in the next few synods after that on a demo mission.


SpaceX is ridiculously successful. The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are now as reliable as the best competitors and are so much cheaper than their competitors it's not even funny.

SpaceX didn't lower Falcon 9 launch prices because the market is willing to pay their current price, but they sell something that costs them about $20M for $70M (competition's price is at $100M) and they sell something that costs them about $40M for $150M (competition's price is at $400M).

ULA (Boeing and Lockheed Martin partnership that used to have US monopoly) only exists today because the US federal government needs dissimilar redundancy, so that if something bad happens on a launch, the other provider's system can launch stuff while the first one is investigating and fixing the issue. Without this requirement, ULA would have been closed. Same for Boeing's CST-100. Same for Northrop Grumman's Antares and Cygnus. Same for Orbital's Dream Chaser. Boeing's SLS and LockMart's Orion cash cows will be shut down if Starship proves reliable.

Starship is much more speculative/ambitious and will require a bunch more iterations before they make it work. There will definitely be failures along the way, hopefully without loss of human life but that's not guaranteed. If they don't go bankrupt before they make it work, a fully rapidly reusable Starship (150 tons to orbit for just a few million bucks) will make all other rocket technology completely antiquated, 100x cheaper is too much to bear for national pride reasons.


SpaceX is unquestionably a success at this point, although their end goal is probably something that will take longer than a single lifetime. Boring and Neuralink are still early, and Neuralink may also be one of those century-long things.

Tesla and SpaceX have both achieved their original nearer term vehicles, Dragon/ F9/FH plus Model S, X, and 3. Full reuse and full autonomy currently are still out of reach, but both of those are incredibly ambitious that no one else is super close to doing, either.

Both Tesla and SpaceX are very successful, but of course Musk keeps raising the bar on what he considers success.


Like I said, they’re fine companies. And they’re doing innovative things!

But you’ll have forgive me if I hold Musk to public promises he’s made, especially regarding self driving cars & Mars. At a certain point, what’s the difference between making a bold promise and telling a lie? It’s difficult to judge people’s intentions.


Is it a lie to set as a goal for your company something that will take longer than one lifetime?

It’d be a lie if they weren’t taking steps necessary for that goal. It’s not a lie to have a large, even an unlikely, goal.

Starship, in particular, isn’t really needed for a conventional space business case. Falcon 9 is sufficient for that. Starship (as envisioned) is either too big or too reusable. The only thing it makes sense for is the grand, multi-generational vision.


Musk doesn’t think that they’ll take a lifetime. He thinks SpaceX should reach Mars in 4 years & transhumanism should arrive next year, for example.


> His stated goal is to do this by 2050. That’s within his lifetime (I hope).

(Responding to your claim elsewhere since reply isn't allowed there)

Incorrect. That's not Musk's stated goal. What he said was:

"Building 100 Starships/year gets to 1000 in 10 years or 100 megatons/year or maybe around 100k people per Earth-Mars orbital sync" - [0]

Nothing at all about having a million people on Mars in 2050. To get a million people to Mars requires ten Earth-Mar orbital syncs, or 20 years. Adding 10 years to get to that 1000 Starships/year cadence. That means they have to achieve 100 Starship/years by 2022 to have a shot at sending a million people to Mars by 2052 (because the next orbital sync is 2022)

Starship hasn't flown yet with the first orbital flight hopefully some time next year. It will be well into 2020s, at the earliest, to get to 100 starships/year production rate. Musk knows that and he didn't state otherwise.

[0] - https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1217989066181898240


Reaching Mars in 4 years is the goal. He has always thought that was a stretch goal, as has been clear on every single presentation he has given on the topic. (BTW, NASA has a stretch goal of 2024 for landing people on the Moon; they acknowledge it is a stretch goal, and it probably also will be years later. Does that make NASA liars?)

But I'd say there's a greater than 50/50 chance of SpaceX landing people on Mars in Musk's lifetime. But that's not even THAT remarkable... Their actual goal (self-sustaining Mars civilization of at least a million people) is 5-6 orders of magnitude grander than that, and almost certainly won't occur in Musk's lifetime. Musk acknowledges that.


> Does that make NASA liars?

No. It makes them not-successful. Which also applies to SpaceX in that regard.

> Their actual goal (self-sustaining Mars civilization of at least a million people) is 5-6 orders of magnitude grander than that, and almost certainly won't occur in Musk's lifetime. Musk acknowledges that.

His stated goal is to do this by 2050. That’s within his lifetime (I hope).


It's a lie when they tell you you can buy a car ready for full self driving when that will take longer than one lifetime, yes.

SpaceX promises or goals or whatever are less egrigious. It's clearly providing a useful service (stuff to orbit for less money), but nobody is giving them a bunch of money today for a ride to Mars maybe later. Same with the Boring Company; it'll become egregious if they trick a municipality into paying for something, or leave an unfinished tunnel sitting around for years and years (but longer than the Seattle tunnel, cause even non-imaginary tunnel machines have problems)


You set goals and work towards them.

Becoming an inter-planetary species doesn't happen in a year.

I want SpaceX to succeed and they have a track record of execution such that I now believe they really can. I was hopeful before (and if you listen to Musk talk about it he didn't think they'd be able to really pull it off early on either but figured they'd at least make progress towards it even if they failed), but now I think a mars colony is a real possible outcome.

It's not a bold take to just state something is impossible until it happens, that's pretty much the default.

The bold take is to look at what might be possible and execute goals in pursuit of that.

For SpaceX this means reusable rocket technology to bring costs down (massive success here has them ahead of everyone else). Starlink as a revenue source is also a really good approach.

For Tesla it's the 'master plan' of roadster -> model s -> model 3, reinvesting in infrastructure and battery technology with vertical integration to build out superchargers and drive costs down. This has been massively successful and their EVs (particularly the model3/y) have no equal at any price point EV or gas. The level 5 autonomy was really a bonus on top of that EV transition that they've added to, and if anyone can pull it off it will be Andrej Karpathy and the fleet of Tesla's they can train with (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx7BXih7zx8).

Bullshit and really big ideas can sound similar, but that doesn't mean they are - there's a lot of value in being able to tell the difference.

In the case of Nikola, they're just lying to enrich themselves and taking advantage of those that can't see the difference between a person like Trevor Milton and a person like Elon Musk.


I agree with you that they’re working towards these goals. And there’s obviously a ton of daylight between Musk and Milton.

But the point I’m making is more specific than that: you can’t call them successes because they haven’t achieved their goals yet. (But they haven’t failed yet, either. The jury is still out.)


This is just disputing definitions: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/7X2j8HAkWdmMoS8PE/disputing-...

As far as daylight between Musk and Milton, it's not a matter of degree, but one of kind.


> Some bold takes

Nothing bold about saying people won’t achieve goals and then disclaiming it saying people can gloat in 5 years if you’re wrong. That’s cowardly, the opposite of bold.


Musk said the first passengers could go to Mars in 2024, which is 4 years from now. So I’m being generous. Hasn’t he repeatedly proved everyone wrong? Where does the quote “Never bet against Elon” come from? I’m being quite bold.

But you’re right on the other points —- I’m willing to extend the timeframe for self driving to 10 years and transhumanism to 20. And to be even bolder, I’ll let you pick a timeline for the Hyperloop.


Oh I will take the Mars bet. What are your terms? Want to longbets.org it?


I'd also totally take that Mars bet. But I wouldn't touch the other three bets, I think OP is on the right side of those.


That’s a fairly high bar. Musk’s vision is a 100 year vision, I don’t think anyone expects transhumanism in 2021.


Musk has been really bullish on AI. In 2015, he seemed pretty sure we’d have super intelligent AI in 5 years (ie now), and he worried about it which is why he started Neuralink. So he probably was hoping for transhumanism by 2021. That’s why I discount those who think Musk was scamming about self-driving being available soon. He was naive and he tricked himself. Don’t believe his time projections about anything like AI.

Doesn’t mean those goals won’t be achieved, even if they are late, tho.


Musk has actually delivered ground breaking tech in multiple fields though. He talks big but he usually (eventually) backs it up. No other company has managed to send rockets to space and then land them again. No other company has managed to sell fully electric cars en-masse like Tesla has done.


Yeah, he certainly invests in innovative high-tech industries and I like that a lot. But he also overpromises a lot, e.g. coast-to-coast tesla autopilot (probably not happening anytime soon) or something actually useful with the neurochip (also years ahead). some of his remarks on AI also tells me that he has a feeling that he knows everything about everything but that might not be exactly the case. he is a smart guy and he got rich basically by having a really good electronic payment system. but that does not make him a universal engineer/scientist/philosopher.


“Shoot for the stars but if you happen to miss shoot for the moon instead.”

There's something to be said about the value of setting wildly unachievable goals. It takes you further than you might have thought possible.


No other company?

Nissan Leaf? Close to 1/2 million sold.


The Leaf came years after Tesla and was a cautious, follow-the-leader side bet by Nissan.

The Tesla Roadster was a radical re-thinking of the automobile -- an industry that had been stagnating for over 50 years -- and an all-in investment in electric vehicle future by an eccentric billionaire. Nowhere near as bold or life-or-death in either financial outlay or feature design.

Do a side-by-side feature comparison of the original Leaf and Roadster to see just how far apart the two were in thinking, design and ambition.

The Leaf was and is essentially the belief that Tesla's vehicles would be too expensive for the average customer so Nissan could ride Tesla's tailwind to sell a more affordable model. And they have, and that's fine.

But it boggles my mind when people imply that Nissan's efforts in electric vehicles are in any way a reasonable comparison to what Tesla has done.


The LEAF however is a fine rebuttal to the GGP claim “No other company has managed to sell fully electric cars en-masse like Tesla has done.”


> No other company has managed to send rockets to space and then land them again.

* orbit


Not yet. The boosters don't reach orbital velocity, that's the second stage.


> Not yet. The boosters don't reach orbital velocity, that's the second stage.

Fair enough.

I suppose typing the whole thing out:

"SpaceX is the first company to launch a rocket to orbit and land its first stage"

is the most accurate way to phrase it. I was just trying to acknowledge companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, who have landed rockets or parts thereof before SpaceX.

The big difference, however, is that those efforts have been essentially economically meaningless, whereas SpaceX's efforts have been quite impactful.


NASA was reusing orbital 'upper stages' (although not boosters or ETs) for a few years. This little thing called a 'Space Shuttle.'


That's valid from a certain perspective. Technologically, Shuttle was a tour de force, although economically extremely terrible. Once it was decided to retire Shuttle,p probably the most common perspective among industry experts was that Shuttle "proved" reuse was not economically feasible and expendable was the way to go. So while Shuttle pushed technology to the limit, in many ways it actually held back development of reusable rocket technology (at least from a national policy perspective, which might have actually been for the best as it created the space that SpaceX needed to develop their solution commercially).

So in practical terms, Shuttle might have actually held back reusable rocket use more than advanced it. Fantastic achievement, though, and really not too bad economically when you consider all of its capabilities (only a fraction of which were used for any given mission, though).


Given how much of a dog the Shuttle was, you're not really making as strong an argument as you think here.


What argument do you think I am making? It was never my intention to make an argument. I'm just pointing out that the Shuttle was a reusable rocket. I'm certainly not talking about practicality or economics. I'm not detracting from anything SpaceX has done, though it seems like you have to walk on eggshells around some fanboys who perceive mere mention of the Shuttle as an attack I guess.


That's a shame. I've got nothing against people dragging Musk for indulging the same fantasies I grew out of around age fourteen, I just prefer they be good at it.


Mentioning the reusability of the shuttle is not "dragging Elon Musk", please get a grip. I am a fan of what SpaceX is doing. I would not drag on Elon Musk by criticizing the accomplishments of SpaceX, there are far better ways to do that.


> NASA was reusing orbital 'upper stages' (although not boosters or ETs) for a few years. This little thing called a 'Space Shuttle.'

Oh, the thing that had to be essentially refurbished before being able to fly again?


Correct.

(Though I forgot that they also refurbed the SRBs. I think the SSMEs are more impressive, they got 19 uses out of one of them.)


SRBs are complete trash after one use, they are a great reliable source of fuel, but it certainly wasn't feasible to reuse.


They only land the first stage(s), and those don't see space...


The first stages regularly exceed the Karman line; the first stage's apogee is normally 10 to 20 kilometres higher than stage separation.


It’s not Musk, but the workers that did all of that.


???? who corralled those workers? I always see this argument, if Milton has the same ability to bring together talented people as Musk does, his bullshit will be gladly accepted - both have proven the ability to bullshit, but only one has brought together groundbreaking teams thus far


Corralling the workers does not mean doing the technical work. they are different skill sets, and the original comment conflated the two.


The Bailey: Elon Musk is a great engineer.

The Motte: Elon Musk is great at hiring engineers.


There’s always danger of “smelling your own farts” syndrome, though. Like the whole submarine thing: it didn’t work! No doubt that Musk is very smart and knowledgable in the areas he has excelled. But a few times now he seemed to have decided that this means he’s smart in a whole load of other areas too, without much evidence. Another example is almost any time he talks about AI.


Not to go threw this again but ... if you actually read in detail what was going on, the 'submarine' was developed as a contingency only for the smallest child. It was developed because expert at the scene were not sure they could get the kid out. It was a worst case contingency plan for 1 kid from the very beginning (that's what it was sized for).

Of course in the media it was all like 'Elon rides in on spaceship and promises to build submarine to save everybody'. And we don't know if it 'didn't work' as it was not tried, because the smallest kid was eventually brought threw with the same methods.

The whole point here is that Elon wanted to help but clearly he couldn't help with diving, so with a team of engineers they tried to work on a small part of the problem. Only to then get shit on relentlessly for working something out of the box.

It was similar to when everybody was shitting on Elon because apparently he delivered the wrong products to help with Covid. Later turned out that Tesla had excellent contact with doctors in China because of their production facilities in China and focused on delivering what doctors in China told them was useful.

All in all there is no way around it, Elon has started many successful companies and pretty much all of them have done some or many impressive things. Very often with the experts in the field claiming his plans were impossible or buissness suicide. He might say something wrong once in a while, but you better actually listen what exactly he is saying and why, before dismissing it claiming he is just smelling his farts.


I'm no Musk fanboy and this isn't meant to be a defense of Musk, but in my opinion, Musk exaggerates and over promises. He'll say intentionally vague things and let people fill in the blanks and not correct them when they are wrong. It's all a little slimy and grey, but there's usually at least a modicum of truth to the things he says or he at least believes what he's saying at the time he says it.

From what I've heard recently Nikola just seems like straight up lies and fraud from trying to piggy back on the success of Tesla.

Neither are good, but one is much worse in my opinion.


> Musk exaggerates and over promises

True. But he also delivers on most of them. What I find most optimistic about his statements are basically the timeframes. Self-driving is taking longer than initially thought, and so is Mars. But there's been major progress across multiple (difficult) industries.

We can't compare him with the copycat company (not even the name is original!)


I mean, if he gives a timeline and the timeline is wrong, he's still wrong. Obviously people deserve a bit of leeway because shit happens, but it seems to keep happening.

In my mind that either means he's stupid (not learning from his mistakes) or deceptive. Personally, I don't think he's stupid, so...


The FTC should look into Musk's statements about self-driving, how it's almost done, etc. All that does is trick Tesla owners into paying for the $8000 upgrade for a product that will never, ever come, guaranteed. It just won't happen and he keeps peddling the product like it's only a year away, for the last several years. It's outright fraud and he should be taken to task for it. And for the record, I'm a Tesla-owner.


If you set an unrealistic goal that you won't accomplish but try really hard to reach it, in most cases your end result and the progress you made along the way will be far far better than when you set a realistic goal and reach it.

I always set unrealistic bars for myself. And in the end I get more from not reaching my goal than I would from reaching a lower one.


You're pointing at exactly what allows a skilled conman to succeed: To a casual, or even non-expert observer, the difference between a genius and a skilled impersonation of a genius will appear very small. You might not be able to make the distinction, and erroneously consider them equivalent.


the big difference between a pitch and a fraud is eventual intention. Seriously, even company name implies fraud by association


It sounds bad, but I thought of another way to look at it.

Nikola's product is the brand of being a hip, "with it" electric car company, like Tesla, but different, and they are selling it to GM. It's a simple straightforward win-win, and everything that looks like fakery is beside the point. It has solid value to GM precisely because of the inflated, arguably irrational value of Tesla.

Now, I'm not investing, but it did occur to me to look at it that way. They are not actually in the same business as Tesla or GM. They're laundering cool factor.


I really like the cargo cult note. There are a lot of people building runways in the jungle hoping planes will land and bring cargo, so to speak, in tech. These people can and do make it into public markets (see Nikola) but it’s even more prevalent in private markets. It’s more important than ever to have technical people in private equity, not just VC.


He even ripped off the company's name...


This might be a coincidence but I thought it was funny that the NKLA stock symbol mimicks Tesla's TSLA symbol.


> The guy certainly seems to have a problem with telling the truth.

I actually disagree with this take but it gets close to the problem with Trevor Milton. Trevor is very unpolished. I'm skeptical of how detailed he gets with all the in's and out's with the technologies he's trying to innovate and make more efficient. What's going for him is a few things, he's partnering with many companies which means he's mitigating the company's risk. Now that Musk created the market, others want to join in and try whatever route that sticks.

Musk on the other hand, speaks in more precise words when describing a topic. Musk does sell vaporware but...eventually (behind 'schedule') Musk delivers. This lazy focus on manifesting a specific vision what what Musk is doing. He'll let the entire engineering department go, if they aren't willing to work hard at making the future a reality.

Going full circle, the energy density of hydrogen fuel cell is the future. I don't see how it's not. All you need now is for Toyota to join forces with them and you'll have an unstoppable force that will help reduce emission drastically and at a large scale. The technology is very close (1, maybe 2 iterations away) and I doubt they are far away from a breakthrough. I don't believe Milton could've focused on Hydrogen semi's prior to the success of Tesla, he doesn't have that skill but...he's making due with what he's after. He's also being wise at selling electric trucks too because the market is primed for it (read: Musk primed it).

In conclusion, there are a lot of investors deep into Nikola. If Milton gets in the way of bringing this realistic engineering challenge to market, the investors will change it up. I'm not certain of how much voting say that Milton has but...it's a good sign that he stepped back from CEO role. He's way too sloppy with his words but...he brings the hype and investors are still wanting his hype. It's messy but nothing worth doing is ever blameless.

P.S. I don't own either stock. Nor any energy/battery/car/electric stocks. I'm just interested in advancing our technology.


> Going full circle, the energy density of hydrogen fuel cell is the future.

Based on what? Just looking at the density is not enough. You have to look at the whole system from generation to actually driving.

The hydrogen system is even in the best case, assume multiple many, many improvements in mass manufacturing and so on, only half as efficient as an electric system.

Battery technology is improving at a far faster rate then hydrogen technology, its not even remotely close. By the time your predicted ' (1, maybe 2 iterations away)' happens, batteries will have made 5 iterations.

The DoD for example is already sponsoring a massive program that companies lots of universities and national labs to work on Lithium Sulfur batteries that could double or triple the density of current Li batteries while also being quite a bit cheaper.

Silicon anode batteries are already in the early stages of commercialisation and they will make commercial aviation feasible.

And even if you insist on using chemical fuel, why would you use hydrogen? If you want to drive a truck a long distance at a time, you could just use dimethyl ether, methnol or something like that. That would solve tons of problem with storage and so on.

I really don't understand why people are so fascinated with hydrogen, while it continue to disappoint for 30 years. Even in the space industry, where fuel cell used to be used all the time there use has fallen out of favor.


> Just looking at the density is not enough.

On the contrary, it should be the driving force about making long-term decisions to benefit society. Hell, I'd be all for mini-nuclear in vehicles but the ability to make it safe is such a high threshold that it's not even remotely feasible.

No one thought electric cars would be where they are today. Elon made this electric car market happen by making it sexy (and selling only premium cars) which helped him double down on the real vision. There is a ceiling for the battery and it's not as high as many think.

We'll see what Tesla battery day shows but my main point is this: That to improve society with long-term thinking, we need to be more innovative and it's my opinion that attacking Milton's weaknesses is a waste of the public's time/energy. Especially when short sellers get a lot more freedom in how they deal with the market. No one is being a fair arbiter of the facts. Hydrogen is better for hauling big loads, it just is. To bring that to market is Nikola's real challenge. The upside to hydrogen is greater than the upside of li-ion, full stop. Shouldn't we want the better solution for society?


> On the contrary, it should be the driving force about making long-term decisions to benefit society.

No. Because people don't drive cross country everyday. Making an overall system vastly less efficient to optimize on specific metric that most people don't car about in a product is nonsense.

For grid storage density is also totally irrelevant.

What matters is price and scalability, not density.

> Elon made this electric car market happen by making it sexy (and selling only premium cars)

They are selling premium cars because that really whats economically feasible. As they go down the cost curve the cars will get cheaper.

> There is a ceiling for the battery and it's not as high as many think.

Even with current battery just going to silicon anodes/single crystal cathodes can and will double density.

Go look what is possible with Li-Sulfer batteries that are already being worked on to get to the next level.


> No. Because people don't drive cross country everyday.

Do you like spending a non-insignificant amount of time driving to/from a gas station (or electric charging station) and then spending even more time to wait until your local energy (car's tank/battery cells) has recharged enough for you to go again for....non-insignificant amount of time...etc..etc.

How many people have done this? How many years? etc. It's a pretty important first principle to have a system where energy density is a maximum (or at least significantly higher theoretical maximum than existing trends [i.e. Li-ion]).

> For grid storage density is also totally irrelevant.

I'm not discussing this. I'm talking about high power demands needed for semi's/trucks. The above (in this comment) is also considering the consumer market efficiency to be had.

> Go look what is possible

I'm aware but many of the efficiencies that are implemented for Li-ion [and it's variants] could theoretically compound the limit with hydrogen based. Abundance of essential compounds is a better by product than a scarce quantity of essential compounds.

P.S. This is about moving the goal posts. We're talking about innovation in a specific market. But ultimately the end goal is improving all aspects that affect society. (less destructive to the earth, doing more with less, etc)


> Do you like spending a non-insignificant amount of time driving to/from a gas station

More then 95% of EV charging happens at home. For most people a 300 miles way beyond plenty. In Europe the avg will likely be half of that.

Its seems you focus on the problems with batteries but ignore the many problems in scaling hydrogen and fuel cells. Two gigantic new industries that need to be bootstrapped and both have very significant technical and cost challenges to even get on track.

Batteries are in full ramp with 100 billions of investment in scale and 10s of billions in research. I just think they will win for the waste majority of situations.


> Battery technology is improving at a far faster rate then hydrogen technology, its not even remotely close. By the time your predicted ' (1, maybe 2 iterations away)' happens, batteries will have made 5 iterations.

I'm curious what this is based on. Last I checked, the li-ion batteries of today are basically the same from the ones we had 10-15 years ago. Sure, a little more silicon, a little less cobalt, but ultimately the same chemistry.

The biggest change for fuel cells is that they're moving from science project to mass production. There will be easily orders of magnitude reduction in cost. While this won't go forever, for the foreseeable future we should see a much faster rate of change for fuel cells and not batteries.


> I'm curious what this is based on. Last I checked, the li-ion batteries of today are basically the same from the ones we had 10-15 years ago. Sure, a little more silicon, a little less cobalt, but ultimately the same chemistry.

The batteries chemistry has not improved that much but the density still improved. We were in a period where cost and manufacturing improved far faster then chemistry. But thanks to the investment in batteries there are improvements to the chemistry coming down the pipe.

Tesla is gone have DBE technology that should improve density by 10-20% at least. Full silicon anodes are being commercialized right now. Single Cristal Cathodes are gone come pretty soon. Thicker anodes are being increasingly worked on.

I think we are going to continue to go down the cost curve, both because of engineering and chemical improvements.

> The biggest change for fuel cells is that they're moving from science project to mass production. T

Where is that happening exactly? In all the fuel cell cars Toyota isn't selling very well?


Battery energy density hasn't moved much at all. At best, we're at around 270-280 Wh/kg, and that requires a huge departure from our early understanding of battery safety. The early BEVs were relatively safe, even in a severe accident where the cells are damaged. In modern BEVs, any puncture or damage to the cell is a fire hazard. We've pretty much accepted that all BEVs are extremely flammable. Tesla has nothing of note, and ultimately they're lying or greatly exaggerating what they have.

> Where is that happening exactly?

It is happening everywhere simultaneously. Right now, tens of billions of dollars are being invested in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Anyone who pays attention knows that the revolution is happening as we speak.


What possibly could they have to offer for Toyota? It doesn't look like they did any work or even had anyone capable of researching hydrogen cells working for them.

Instead of advancing technology, they might have taken funding and credibility actual companies could have used.

The founder has so far answered just one real question on twitter, about what they were going to bring to the GM produced car: "100% a badger. We will use common parts for example; tires, window regulators, hvac, brakes & batteries to drive down cost, but the badger is completely a badger. The infotainment, displays, software, ota, app, cab, interior, user experience, sales, service, warranty etc is ours"

That's a long way to say they'll use their software and sales team.


I don't see it as very different from Tesla, since when they started there was no real technology to talk about. The CEO of Tesla is also well known to be untrustworthy with his promises, having even being formally investigated by the SEC for stock price manipulation. I don't know the future, but there is a possibility that they will also develop the needed technology to make it all work.


I have met people like Nikola's CEO, and I bet my dear life that nothing will ever be delivered, except if the technology exists to completely - I mean exactly 100% - outsource it using the cash given by others and slap a logo on the result, failing in the end anyway. When you see a company so hell bent and putting so much effort in tricking investors AND actively avoiding doing any real work, you know what's happening. If you, and more importantly people with money to invest, are persuaded that "it's not different from Tesla", that's a victory for Nikola, and their sole source of income.


> since when they started there was no real technology to talk about

That is flat false, making a automotive battery out of laptop batteries was quite a technology development. They also made their own engines and inverters from the beginning.

> The CEO of Tesla is also well known to be untrustworthy with his promises

Actually the opposite, it is well known that when he says something its very likely going to happen. As most of the things he say, no matter how crazy to turn out to actually happen.

Arguable there is no other human alive in the world today, that when he say 'We are gone do X' that more people believe could actually do it.

> having even being formally investigated by the SEC for stock price manipulation.

He wasn't investigated for stock price manipulation, he was investigated for improper communication to stock holders.

> I don't know the future, but there is a possibility that they will also develop the needed technology to make it all work.

So even after 10 years of consistently laying every year, announcing dozens of technologies that all turn out to be totally fake you still think they can do it. That seems beyond utterly blue-eye to me.


Anyone else getting Theranos vibes? As others have stated here, Hindenburgresearch is a known short-seller and so has an self interest to drive down the stock price of Nikola.

Also it was only yesterday that GM announced taking an 11% in the company for $2B. Surely GM has done their due diligence before throwing a couple of billions in? https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/business/nikola-gm-badger-ele...

That all said, everyone also thought Theranos was legitimate until they were exposed to be not.


I think you read the $2B upside down. Nikola paid GM $2B worth of stocks (11% of the company) to have GM manufacture its vehicles, not the other way around


You're right I misread it - Nikola is paying GM. Sounds like a no-brainer for GM to accept.


Worst case, and let's be honest, modal case, Nikola goes under and GM has tech and parts that they can just use on their own anyway in their electric vehicles.


Even better for GM, they just acquire the whole thing and now they have a new brand to make their EV's under. GM could make a Chevy Volt 2x better than any Tesla, but Tesla will still sell better because of the brand identity. If you look at it like a branding/marketing deal then it makes a lot more sense from GM's perspective.


...right up until Nikola becomes a synonym for Theranos or Enron. The company is public, when it implodes there will be lawsuits and not just from a few private investors.


>GM could make a Chevy Volt 2x better than any Tesla

As someone who worked in automotive tech in Detroit. This isn't even close to true.


Sorry for the vague wording. I meant "could" not as a statement of their actual ability, but as a hypothetical. If they did make such a car, Tesla would still sell better because of the brand. The current public narrative says that Tesla is cutting edge and futuristic, and Chevy is old school. Tesla's brand evokes images of cars as smart as their drivers, and Chevy evokes muscle cars and old pickup trucks. EV sales will reflect that regardless of how their cars actually compare to one another.


> If they did make such a car, Tesla would still sell better because of the brand.

That is highly questionable to me.

> The current public narrative says that Tesla is cutting edge and futuristic, and Chevy is old school.

That the current 'narrative' because its currently true.


If Chevy made something better than a Tesla for a similar price or cheaper then people would buy it. But they can't.


and unfortunately they don't really want to.


In addition to $700M from Nikola to cover the expenses of the work that GM is supposed/going to do for them.


> Hindenburgresearch is a known short-seller and so has an self interest to drive down the stock price of Nikola.

Short sellers don’t really have an interest to lie though. If it doesn’t look like there is really a fire, it’s much better to close the position and hunt for a new target rather than trying to make it seem like a problem when there isn’t. Lies don’t help short sellers because they present a legal risk and a financial risk (the market steam rolling them as they are seen through).


Yep plus the boy who cried wolf risk (ie that would only work once if at all)


> Anyone else getting Theranos vibes?

GM + Nikola = Theranos + Walgreens

Big Co partnership !== legitimacy


> Surely GM has done their due diligence before throwing a couple of billions in?

I'm not sure there's any signal embedded in the knowledge that a company as incompetent as GM has done due diligence.


There is no rhyme or reason with GM. They’re completely incapable of innovating by themself in the electric or self driving space so they’re just throwing all their R&D budget into acquisitions and partnerships.

Started with Cruise, now Nikola, and it will continue until they’re bankrupt.


Absolutely. I also see the same FOMO dynamics at play. In Theranos' case a huge part of it was wanting to support "the female Steve Jobs". In Nikola's case it's not wanting to be left behind in auto tech while Tesla takes the lead.


The Theranos founder lived in a small apartment, while Trevor Milton built the biggest house in Utah.

Edit: Apparently what I said is incorrect about Theranos. I have heard this but I have never made a study of the company. So it might well not be correct or only for a limited time.

I'm pretty sure I am correct about Mitons house.




And the thread of the sweater gets pulled...

While not shocking given the previous track record of Trevor's previous enterprises - the most likely outcome here is that it will get very, very ugly. He also already 'cashed out' millions of dollars to buy a 32.5 million dollar ranch - one of the largest residential properties in Utah's history. [1]

Tesla's run up and general optimism around EVs seems to have triggered a gold rush of sorts, effecting other EV pureplays' stock prices (ex. NIO) regardless of progress and actual state of the technology.

While in theory I am in strong support of new financing models to bring new technologies to market(ex. these Special Purpose Acquisition Companies - SPACs) I am very concerned that if even a portion of the alleged is true, this could poison this financing route for legitimate businesses and the sector overall. A camp in the investment industry even think Tesla is a fraud, and this would only harm the narrative and long term mission of Tesla.

It would have been great if they actually took the money, utilized it with a plan and executed on the plan to help with electrification - the premise for which I think many retail investors have become involved.

Even if there was no fraud, I was always skeptical of their plan (smelled like vaporware to me) and their adamance about hydrogen as an energy storage medium without sufficient discussion on electrolyzer technology or how those unit economics work always struck me as big red flags. Seems like Nikola's plan was to combine a bunch of off the shelf parts existing from other sources into a product, in that case - where is the technology? So much of it with just the bit of digging and what I hear about it has made me skeptical.

Probably best to stay as far away as possible and see where the chips fall. I do wish them the best though, assuming there was no fraud.

[1] https://www.latimes.com/business/real-estate/story/2019-11-1...


>A camp in the investment industry even think Tesla is a fraud,

At this point in Tesla's history, how is it a fraud? It is manufacturing and selling cars. It is building batteries. I can see where some may think it is not living up to the hype/promise of returns, but they are actually making and selling product. Yet people are still claiming fraud?


I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what short sellers do (which is where most of the "fraud" accusation comes from). Some short sellers DO claim fraudulent behavior, e.g. Enron was famously predicted to be fraudulent by Jim Chanos.

However short selling at its core just involves the belief that a company is overvalued. In the case of extreme fraud, the "correct value" is $0. In most cases, the short seller just believes it's some amount less than the current share price (but above $0).

Tesla falls into the latter category. I'm sure some do claim fraudulent behavior, but Tesla is an interesting case because Tesla's PE is ~200 IIRC, compared to the 20 average for the automotive industry. For comparison, Amazon's PE is 120.

So if you think Tesla is ultimately a car company, or even just a "regular" tech company, it's not insane to think that it's incredibly overvalued. That doesn't mean you think it's a fraud, of course, but the subtlety obviously gets lost by many (and short sellers often make grandiose edicts that don't help their case).


> Tesla's PE is ~200 IIRC

TSLAs PE is 896 as of market close today (371.74/.4140) and had a PE of ~1213 at its ATH price of 502.49/share


Yikes, I haven’t kept up with it much clearly.

But yeah, there’s a valid non-malicious reason to believe Tesla is overvalued.


thank you for putting up this correction

There is literally no company on the planet that can justify a 896 PE

Let's see how long Tesla can keep things going with 1,000 PEs

They are projected (based on stock valuation) to take over all or most of

cars energy solar power

Which is quite an absurd assumption


Plenty of companies have justified negative P/E, which is worse than 896, and still worse than even 10,000. In fact, their share price kept going up all the way until their P/E was strongly positive.


Musk has said he thinks that Tesla's stock is overvalued, and the company has sold stock to raise funds.

Musk may hate them, but there's is little-to-no daylight between him and the short sellers at this point; both think Tesla's stock is currently overvalues and are selling it to cash in on the current high valuations. :)


Musk said "Tesla stock price is too high imo". This was a clue that the 1:5 stock split was coming.

Where did he ever say Tesla was overvalued?


If they are losing money doing those things it isn't really much of a business.

They do appear to be generating income from operations these days, but the size of the operation has increased so fast that it is hard to analyze.


They've actually been showing profits recently.

But even if they weren't, there's a lot of daylight between unprofitable and fraudulent!


All "profits" come from regulatory credits. Even then, there's plenty of aggressive accounting going on. It's arguable Tesla has never been profitable and still isn't.


I'm sure the S&P 500 committee took note, they decided not to include TSLA in the index, which I am thankful for.


Couldn't agree more that the sentiment doesn't make sense given what they have actually done, all of their proof, all their products, patents etc. (disclaimer: I'm long TSLA)

I'm just relaying what I have heard and read. Tesla's history is far from perfect. I think the target of issue has been their various claims and promises on 'self-driving' and their autonomous vehicle programs. Also, some possible issues surrounding the acquisition/merger of SolarCity.

And while the shorts around Tesla aren't making much noise right now given all the momentum, it wasn't all that long ago that there were some loud short sellers alleging about various accounting frauds. Some quick 'internet research' here will dig up various allegations and statements from the 'haters'.

More common at issue is that many traditional auto analysts' existing equity valuation models for auto companies 'break' when you plug in the numbers for Tesla - making it impossible to come to a 'reasonable' valuation they are comfortable buying at (as these are people investing other people's money need to be able to point to something that justifies the purchase if it goes south).


There are a lot of short sellers who lost money who were desperate for any reason for Tesla stock to fall.


This is an incredibly unfair characterization about how short sellers think and operate.


Why is there this attitude that short positions are somehow less moral than long positions? I really don't get it.


I think it's because short sellers are seen as pessimists -- on some level, you're betting for a business to fail (or perform poorly), and regardless of whether or not you're right, that means you're betting on people losing jobs, dreams going up in smoke, etc. etc.

I don't subscribe to this narrative, but it's an easy one to spin when your stock is the one being short sold.


It's not inherent to the shirt position but some short sellers definitely influence media.


Because, to simplify, shorts are hoping for people to fail, while longs are hoping for people to succeed.


What both shorts and longs are hoping for are profits on their investment. I doubt either really cares about businesses/people succeeding or failing.

If you promise a bunch of long holders that a particular short trade is guaranteed to make profit, would they not take it out of concern for people?


Because sometimes the shorts do some shady things.. https://teslamotorsclub.com/tmc/threads/elon-musk-vs-short-s...


People holding long positions do shady stuff all the time as well. I don't see the distinction.


Please share some examples. I'd like to understand so I can compare to the things in that link.


Pump-and-dumps are an entire class of fraud that fundamentally relies on you being long.


This is totally right and just as shady


Enron? Years of blatant fraud and earnings manipulation with the explicit goal of hitting stock price targets.


Was that the company itself or were there outsiders contributing to this too?


Theranos comes to mind


Theranos was a shady company. But it wasn't a public company. The shadiness was the company itself.


Were the people being shady not also stock holders doing shady things to keep the stock price up?


I think there is a difference in the company itself being shady and investors being shady to influence the stock price. The long pump and dumpers definitely fall into the latter category and similar to the shorts described in my link.


> While in theory I am in strong support of new financing models to bring new technologies to market(ex. these Special Purpose Acquisition Companies - SPACs) I am very concerned that if even a portion of the alleged is true, this could poison this financing route for legitimate businesses and the sector overall.

SPACs have been around for a long time, and they've always had a bad reputation, often used for various forms of fraud and penny stock scams. Going live via a SPAC is opaque and expensive; you'd never choose it unless the normal IPO path seemed too risky for some reason, probably because you might not be able to survive the transparency the process requires.

If Nikola is just a complete fraud, that wouldn't taint SPACs so much as it would confirm their existing reputation.


Combining existing off the shelf components into a novel design is a legitimate way to build an innovative product. The first Tesla Roadster was exactly that, all car companies had access to the technology but they dismissed it as a gimmick, who would buy a street car powered by lawn mower tech.


This interview from April 2019 was the thing that convinced me he was a fraud. https://www.truckinginfo.com/330475/whats-behind-the-grille-...

This gem right here:

> "The entire infotainment system is a HTML 5 super computer," Milton said. "That's the standard language for computer programmers around the world, so using it let's us build our own chips. And HTML 5 is very secure. Every component is linked on the data network, all speaking the same language. It's not a bunch of separate systems that somehow still manage to communicate."

This guy does not know what HTML is. What he has described is not what HTML would be used for.

And I'm supposed to believe he's some sort of mastermind behind some new age hydrogen/electric truck?


Have you listened to Jack Ma talk? He sounds like some kind of total moron in the panel discussion with Elon Musk. I know, you're thinking "It's not his first language. That's what it is" but go watch it yourself¹. The ideas he expresses seem completely unformed and make it look like he's not operating at a particularly high level.

But Alibaba is real. It's a real company doing real things and delivering real value. It's a giant success.

Now I'm not saying Nikola will be (maybe those shorts for 2022 are pretty cheap) but people speak like complete idiots and still run successful companies that they start.

¹ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3lUEnMaiAU

Here's a highlight: https://youtu.be/f3lUEnMaiAU?t=789


Alibaba is real and heavily funded by the CCP. After seeing that interview last year I lost all respect for Alibaba.

It became clear they (+ANT financial) exist only because the CCP allows them to exist with heavy funding.

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/can-we-trust-alibabas-numb...


Yeah, if a CEO/director being a chronic bullshit artist always meant a company was fraudulent, I'm not sure how many legitimate companies we'd have left.


The only difference between Jack Ma and Elon in that interview is that Elon's bullshit sounds smart to us and Jack's doesn't. Every CEO's real job is to pander to their audience and hype up the company. That might mean repeating "HTML5 AI Encryption Blockchain" over and over again to roomfuls of investors and shareholders.


Yea the takeaway I had was that both of them were spewing some pretty stupid stuff, though Jack Ma's sounded more like propaganda.


Yeah, after that talk I was pretty skeptical Jack Ma was anything more than just a CCP figurehead or maybe friends with someone in the government?

He comes across as a complete idiot.

Maybe you don't need to be that smart to run a company like Alibaba, but I find that hard to believe - I suspect government protection and party favoritism plays a part.


When they are just a figurehead for a government-backed enterprise, they can be complete morons.

When you are the head of a revolutionary startup that's competing technologically with existing companies, you can't afford to be one.


Richard Branson would've been a much better example. He's massively dyslexic, can barely read, and openly admits that he didn't understand the difference between "net" and "gross" for the first couple decades of running his companies.

He was however a massively charismatic individual and an extremely good judge of character, so he was able to use these traits to sweet talk investors and hire people he knew he could trust to get the job done.


>When you are the head of a revolutionary startup that's competing technologically with existing companies, you can't afford to be one.

Of course you can, you hire people to understand those things for you and make them work. Do you think the bulk of innovation, design and execution comes from the CEO's own head? Not even Elon Musk is that integral to his companies or their output.


[flagged]


Uh, check the history of BABA for one? Alibaba was heavily funded by the provincial investment fund of Hangzhou, a CCP entity, in the 90s. As Alibaba grew, the CCP's holdings, and its hold, on BABA only grew further.

Jack Ma is pretty much the useful idiot for the CCP, for most of the history of Alibaba.

EDIT:- to answer your question to the other commenter, take a look at Amazon. Amazon was largely loss-making for most of the history of the shopping portal, and is largely fueled by associated services such as AWS and prime. Considering Alibaba's less than admirable position in those sectors, it's hard to fathom how Baba managed to remain profitable still, without extensive government support.


US investment banks, which provide plenty of loans and mid-life funding for non-public companies are also deeply entangled in Washington. Facebook took In-Q-Tel funding. Google bought mulitple In-Q-Tel-funded startups.

That doesn't mean that the companies those banks fund are ran by idiots and sock puppets, it doesn't mean that Zuckerberg is a CIA-planted useful idiot[1], and it doesn't explain why Google is the most popular search engine in the US.

Just because you've taken government funding, doesn't mean the government does all the hard work of operating you. Just because you need to be in the good graces of the government to run your company doesn't mean some government bureaucrat is going to do all the hard work of building a trillion dollar business for you.

I must also note that I utterly fail to understand how the ideas you express can be reconciled with the success of all these firms, and also the HN zeitgeist of 'government bureaucrats are incapable of doing anything well.' They must truly have a better class of bureaucrat in China, given that they've somehow built a profitable trillion dollar business without anyone noticing. [2]

[1] It also doesn't mean that he's not doing useful work for the three letter agencies.

[2] Given how wildly successful these alleged bureaucrats seem to be, one can only image if the Soviet Union[3] got their hands on those folks. We'd all be driving Ladas, drinking vodka, and speaking Russian.

[3] Which is an actual example of a country where the government did run its businesses. For some reason, though, it didn't spawn any trillion-dollar e-commerce startups...


No that’s just how totalitarian governments work. Stop being naive.


I think it's naive to believe that it's impossible for a Chinese company to not become dominant in the Chinese domestic retail market (And a major player in international retail, given that practically everything is manufactured in China).

In fact, it's practically inevitable, regardless of whether or not the government is there to hold your hand, and put a band-aid on any boo-boos you get along the way.

Mind you, 'naive' is the most charitable word I can think of to express myself.

Do you also find it shocking that the largest retailers in India are Indian companies? The largest retailers in France are French companies? The largest retailers in Russia are Russian companies?


For me, this was sadly hilarious (https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-08-06/it-s-a...):

"More impressive is that Nikola’s revenue for the second quarter was very small ('immaterial,' Nikola actually calls it), just $36,000. Most impressive, though, is how they earned that revenue:

'During the three months ended June 30, 2020 and 2019 the Company recorded solar revenues of $0.03 million and $0.04 million, respectively, for the provision of solar installation services to the Executive Chairman, which are billed on time and materials basis. During the six months ended June 30, 2020 and 2019 the Company recorded solar revenues of $0.08 million and $0.06 million, respectively, for the provision of solar installation services to the Executive Chairman. As of June 30, 2020 and December 31, 2019, the Company had $3 thousand and $51 thousand, respectively, outstanding in accounts receivable related to solar installation services. The outstanding balance was paid subsequent to period end.'

'Solar installation projects are not related to our primary operations and are expected to be discontinued,' says Nikola, but I guess they are doing one last job, specifically installing solar panels at founder and executive chairman Trevor Milton’s house? It is a $13 billion company whose only business so far is doing odd jobs around its founder’s house."

Edit0: formatting.


The bigger issue here is that this man was able to convince "industry veterans" to give him massive amounts of money. You can see through him in a heart beat because you're technically savvy. Clearly the people running these automakers are not.


It doesn't surprise me in the slightest why he was able to convince deep pocketed "industry veterans" to fund him, and actually understanding the social dynamics at play is important for understanding society at large (and can be very helpful when it comes to making money).

There is a metric shit ton of pressure on these legacy automakers to compete with Tesla. Sure, you may think Tesla is a relatively small slice now, but the leaders at these companies are extremely scared of falling behind technologically to the point where they are uncompetitive. I'm quite sure a lot of people at GM were skeptical, but I bet a lot of them also did the subconscious calculation "What's worse for my career, losing out on a deal with an innovator like Nikola and falling even further behind, or going with Nikola, in which case if it fails we're not much worse off then we were originally?" Against this backdrop it's easy to see how a scammer can take advantage of this dynamic and even play legacy players off each other, e.g. "Well, you could choose not to invest in us, but then think how much further behind Tesla you'll be. And you know we're talking to Ford, too."


Seriously just watch any of the guys rants on YouTube, you don't have to be technically savvy to see through his bullshit. Watch any of his interviews on YouTube. I like this one with Jim Cramer trying to nail him down on his pre-sales number on the Badger and laughing at him later

https://youtu.be/OPhN8saJkAI?t=377


Amazingly tall pile of crap that guy is spewing. In the video he's touting their lack of product / development focus as a virtue and claiming that they can work on four or five projects (vehicles) more efficiently than one, despite having no viable vehicles. Maybe we should consider his premise: Nikola can fail to build four or five vehicles as well as they can fail to build one.


That was painful to watch. He sounds like a politician - talking non-stop and not answering a single question in the process.


There might not be many options for investors that want exposure to the EV market but missed the boat on Tesla. I'm sure plenty thought it could be the Lyft to Tesla's Uber.

It will really only fail when the money dries up. As long as they can keep raising money, they can keep the fantasy alive long enough to lure in other investors.


I mean you could google the guy and find the book he wrote _on running scams in NY_.


The domestic auto industry is a jobs program not a real business.


I can't tell if you're serious or trolling. Ford sold close to a million F-150s alone in 2019 (the best-selling vehicle in America), with the F-series line doing $42 billion in revenue on its own. The domestic auto industry is very much a real business with real revenue and real profitability.


And VW didn't sell any pickup trucks in the US but it's not because Ford outcompeted them.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_tax


Tundra is manufactured in the US and doesn't sell anywhere near as many. Other manufacturers are free to open production facilities in the US to avoid the tariff as well. Not sure what your point is...


Ford is permanently up to its eyeballs in debt and would not be a viable business without repeated government bailouts due to its history.

It isn't a very profitable market.


https://www.sfgate.com/business/fool/article/Why-Ford-Motor-...

And I assume you're referring to the automotive bailouts in 2008 when companies in many industries were falling apart and received bailouts or TARP funds? It was a rather unprecedented situation at the time, not really reflective of overall business viability.

Domestic OEMs have plenty of issues (poor innovation, arguably poor relative quality, unions, etc.) to criticize. Operating margins, which tend to be on par with foreign OEMs, aren't really one of them. And it really depends on what you're comparing it to to make a determination about how profitable the sector is. Pretty much nothing is as profitable as SaaS, but 4-5% is nothing to laugh at.


Running a business with high leverage is a totally valid way to make money. That said, Ford is doing very poorly. Their stock has lost like 60% since 2011. If you lose 60% during the greatest bull market the world has ever seen, well, maybe you should go out of business.


Which everyone should be made aware of, because it's worth asking how did it get that way, and how do we prevent other industries from suffering this fate.

It's been modern economic theory that has encouraged this stripping of US industry...unfortunately it's a lauded theory.


Money talks...even if it is BS, the world is full of it.

Before you downvote this, keep in mind that the founder comes from a Mormon background - perfect upbringing to be trained as a salesman

Another example of selling snake-oil ideas comes from the author of the book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People":

"According to Clayton Christensen, The Seven Habits was a secular distillation of Latter-day Saint values." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Covey


sorry, what is the example of? Also, how is the Mormon background good for being a salesman?


They are required to do missionary work like a door to door salesman.

Imagine being trained like that from youth- you could sell anything. This comes from an anecdote from an ex-Mormon friend.


It definitely gives you an edge if you're extroverted to begin with.


"HTML5 Super Computer" lol, thats the best sequence of words i've heard this year


That's certainly the funniest bit, but "so using it lets us build our own chips" is the biggest head scratcher.


the ease of programming HTML5 frees up our engineers to move their efforts towards chip-design!


Many people feel the same way listening to Elon Musk talking about AI and self driving...

And yet every Tesla owner tells me that their car is just one update away from driving itself across the country.


Musk states that his company's intention is to advance computer vision to the point where it can safely drive a car, and then offer this technology with the sensors deployed in their current vehicle fleet.

Milton stated that using a very secure HTML5 supercomputer that's linked on the data network allows them to build their own chips.

These statements are not equivalent in what they imply about the speaker. It's not subtle.


Musk says a lot of silly things about areas of science and technology he knows nothing about. People who do know about those topics feel the same way about Musk as most of HN, a web-technologies focused forum, feels about Milton talking about HTML5.


Do you have some examples of those silly things?


It's not the same: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx7BXih7zx8

You can watch that talk and see the approach they're taking. Maybe you're more skeptical than they are about the near term possibility, but you can see that the work and progress is real.

The AGI risk is real too.

What Milton said doesn't make semantic sense, it's not a question of timelines.

https://intelligence.org/2017/10/13/fire-alarm/


I firmly believe that some parts of the AI community have a vast overestimation of their capabilities.

AGI is not 50 years away - it is unknowably far in the future. It may be a century, it may be a millenium. We just know far too little about the human mind to make any firm prediction - we're like people in Ancient Greece or 1800s England trying to predict how long it would take to develop technology to reach the moon.

We are at the level where we can't understand how the nervous system of a worm works in terms of computation. Emulating a human-level mind is so far beyond our capabilities that it is absurd to even imagine we know how to do it, "we just need a little more time".


And yet most scientists would claim that there was no plausible, practical way to achieve a controlled fission reaction, with many flat-out stating it was impossible, at the same time that the first fusion reactor was ticking away in Chicago in 1942.

I agree it's not possible to have a good idea to the answer to this question, unless you happen to be involved with a development group that is the first to figure out the critical remaining insights, but it's more in the league of "don't know if it's 5 years or 50" rather than "100 years or 1000".

Predictions are easy when there are no consequences, but I wouldn't make a bet with serious consequences on critical developments for AGI not happening in the next decade. Low probability, probably, but based on history, not impossible.


My reasoning is based on two things. For one, what we know about brains in general and the amount of time it has taken to learn these things (relatively little - nothing concrete about memory or computation). For the other, the obvious limitations in all publically shown AI models, despite their ever-increasing sizes, and the limitted nature of the problems they are trying to solve.

It seems to me extremely clear that we are attacking the problem from two directions - neuroscience to try to understand how the only example of general intelligence works, and machine learning to try to engineer our way from solving specific problems to creating a generalized problem solver. Both directions are producing some results, but slowly, and with no ability to collaborate for now (no one is taking inspiration from actual neural networks in ML, despite the naming; and there is no insight from ML that could be applicable in formulating hypotheses about living brains).

So I can't imagine how anyone really believes that we are close to AGI. The only way I can see that happen is if the problem turns out to be much, much simpler than we believe - if it turns out that you can actually find a simple mathematical model that works more or less as well as the entire human brain.

I wouldn't hold my breath for this, since evolution has had almost a billion years to arrive at complex brains, while basic computation has started from the first unicellular organisms (even organelles inside the cell and nucleus are implementing simple algorithms to digest and reproduce, and even unicellular organisms tend to have some amount of directed movement and environmental awareness).

This is all not to mention that we have no way right now of tackling the problem of teaching the vast amounts of human common sense knowledge that is likely baked into our genes to an AI, and it's hard to tell how much that will impact true AGI.

And even then, we shouldn't forget that there is no obvious way to go from approximately human-level AGI to the kinds of sci-fi super-super-human AGIs that some AI catastrophists imagine. There isn't even any fundamental reason to assume that it is even possible to be significantly more intelligent than a human, in a general sort of way (there is also no reason to assume that you can't be!).


I think mixing in the human bit confuses the issue, you could have a goal oriented AGI that isn't human like that causes problems (paperclip maximizer).

Check out GPT-3’s performance on arithmetic tasks in the original paper (https://arxiv.org/abs/2005.14165)

Pages: 21-23, 63

Which shows some generality, the best way to accurately predict an arithmetic answer is to deduce how the mathematical rules work. That paper shows some evidence of that.

> evolution has had almost a billion years to arrive at complex brains

There are brains everywhere and evolution is extremely slow. Maybe the large computational cost of training models is similar to speeding that computation up?

> there is no obvious way to go from approximately human-level AGI to the kinds of sci-fi super-super-human AGIs that some AI catastrophists imagine.

It's worth reading more about the topic, it's less that we'll have some human comparable AI and then be stuck with it - more so that things will continue to scale. Stopping at human level might be a harder task (or even getting something that's human like at all).

> This is all not to mention that we have no way right now of tackling the problem of teaching the vast amounts of human common sense knowledge that is likely baked into our genes to an AI, and it's hard to tell how much that will impact true AGI.

This is a good point and basically the 'goal alignment problem' or 'friendly AI' problem. It's the main reason for the risk since you're more likely to get a powerful AGI without these 'common sense' human intuitions of things. I think your mistake is thinking the goal alignment is a prerequisite for AGI - the risk comes from the truth being that it's not. Also humans aren't entirely goal aligned either, but that's a different issue.

I understand the skepticism, I was skeptical too - but if you read more about it (not pop-sci, but the books from the people working on the stuff) it's more solid than you probably think and your positions on it won't hold up.


GPT-3's performance on artihmetic is exactly one of the examples of how limited it is, and of how little the creators have tried to understand it. They don't even know if it has some (bad) model of arithmetic, or if it's essentially just guessing. I find it very hard to believe that it has an arithmetic model that works well for numbers up to the thousands but fails on larger numbers. More likely it has memorised some partial multiplication tables.

Getting back to the human bit, I'm using 'human' just as a kind of intelligence level, indicating the only intelligence we know about that can do much of anything in the world.

The paperclip maximizer idea still assumes that the AI has an extremely intricate understanding of the physical and human worlds - much better than any human's. My point was that there is no way at the moment to know if this is possible or not. The whole excersise believes that the AI, in addition to understanding the world so well that it can take over all of our technology, could additionally be so alien in its thinking that it may pursue a goal to this utmost extent. I find this combination of assumptions unconvincing.

Thankfully, the amount of knowledge we have about high level cognition means that I'm confident in saying that I don't know significantly less than, say, Andrew Ng about how to achieve it (though I probably know far less than him about almost any other subject).

I'm not claiming that AGI risk in some far future won't be a real problem. My claim is that it is as silly for us to worry about it as it would have been for Socrates to worry about the effects of 5G antennas.


> More likely it has memorised some partial multiplication tables.

Did you read what I linked? (I don't intend this to be hostile, but the paper explicitly discusses this.) They control for memorization and the errors are off by one which suggest doing arithmetic poorly (which is pretty nuts for a model designed only to predict the next character).

(pg. 23): ”To spot-check whether the model is simply memorizing specific arithmetic problems, we took the 3-digit arithmetic problems in our test set and searched for them in our training data in both the forms "<NUM1> + <NUM2> =" and "<NUM1> plus <NUM2>". Out of 2,000 addition problems we found only 17 matches (0.8%) and out of 2,000 subtraction problems we found only 2 matches (0.1%), suggesting that only a trivial fraction of the correct answers could have been memorized. In addition, inspection of incorrect answers reveals that the model often makes mistakes such as not carrying a “1”, suggesting it is actually attempting to perform the relevant computation rather than memorizing a table.”

> The paperclip maximizer idea still assumes that the AI has an extremely intricate understanding of the physical and human worlds - much better than any human's. My point was that there is no way at the moment to know if this is possible or not.

It seems less likely to me that biological intelligence (which is bounded by things like head size, energy constraints, and other selective pressures) would happen to be the theoretical max. The paperclip idea is that if you can figure out AGI and it has goals it can scale up in pursuit of those goals.

> I'm not claiming that AGI risk in some far future won't be a real problem. My claim is that it is as silly for us to worry about it as it would have been for Socrates to worry about the effects of 5G antennas.

I think this is a hard claim to make confidently. Maybe it's right, but maybe it's the people saying the heavier than air flight is impossible two years after the Wright brothers flew. I think it's really hard to be confident in this prediction either way, people are famously bad at this.

Would you have predicted gpt-3 kind of success ten years ago? I wouldn't have. Is gpt-3 what you'd expect to see in a world where AGI progress is failing? What would you expect to see?

I do agree that given the lack of clarity of what should be done it makes sense for a core group of people to keep working on it. If it ends up being 100yrs out or more we'll probably need whatever technology is developed in that time to help.


> Did you read what I linked? (I don't intend this to be hostile, but the paper explicitly discusses this.) They control for memorization and the errors are off by one which suggest doing arithmetic poorly (which is pretty nuts for a model designed only to predict the next character).

I read about this before. I must confess that I had incorrectly remembered that they had only checked a few of their computations for their presence in the corpus, not all of them. Still, they only check for two possible representations, so there is still a possibility that it picked up other examples (e.g. "adding 10 with 11 results in 21" would not be caught - though it's still somewhat impressive if it recognizes it as 10 + 11 = 21).

> It seems less likely to me that biological intelligence (which is bounded by things like head size, energy constraints, and other selective pressures) would happen to be the theoretical max. The paperclip idea is that if you can figure out AGI and it has goals it can scale up in pursuit of those goals.

Well, intelligence doesn't seem to be so clearly correlated with some of those things - for example, crows seem to have significantly more advanced capabilities than elephants, whales or lions (tool use, human face memorization). Regardless, I agree that it is unlikely that humans are a theoretical maximum. However, I also believe that the distribution of animal intelligence to brain size may suggest that intelligence is not simply dependent on the amount of computing power available, but on other properties of the computing system. So perhaps "scaling up" is not going to be a massive growth in the amount of intelligence - that you need entirely different architectures for that.

> Would you have predicted gpt-3 kind of success ten years ago? I wouldn't have. Is gpt-3 what you'd expect to see in a world where AGI progress is failing? What would you expect to see?

I don't think GPT-3 is particularly impressive. I can't claim that I would have predicted it specifically, but the idea that we could ape human writing significantly better wouldn't have seemed that alien to me I think. GPT-3 is still extremely limited in what it can actually "say", I'm even curious if it will find any real uses that we don't already outsource as brain-dead jobs (such as writing fluff pieces).

And yes, I do agree that this is a problem worth pursuing, don't get me wrong. I don't think lots of AI research is going in the right way necessarily, but some is, and some neuroscience is also making advances in this area.


I don't understand why it's relevant to watch a video of someone who is not Musk as a comparison to Milton.

I'm not claiming that the Head of AI Research at Tesla has said stupid things (I don't think he has), I'm saying that Musk has said stupid and nonsensical things that don't make semantic or scientific sense, and in comparison to Milton their hucksterism is just a difference of degrees.


He's the head of AI and self-driving at Tesla because Elon hired him to do exactly that and understands the approach they're taking.

It's not a matter of degree, but one of kind.


> just one update away

What's the over/under on cold fusion before self-driving?

It used to be more fun before the search engines start pushing age over relevance, but searching for 'elon musk claims' is entertaining.


Self-driving first for sure, since cold fusion isn't thought to even be theoretically possible, and I think self-driving is likely to arrive sometime before "never," even if it's a long time from now. With the uptick in funding for vanilla/hot fusion, though, self-driving vs. hot fusion (Q>1) is actually a legitimately interesting question, I think. I'd probably still bet on self-driving, I guess? But I'd be less confident (and I don't think either is soon).


I got the HW3 hardware update in my MX a few weeks ago - and from what my car has demonstrated to me what it’s capable of - I sincerely believe Tesla will have driveway-to-driveway autonomy for simpler scenarios (e.g. suburbia and semi-rural areas, with clear road-markings) within two years.

I appreciate that what I just said comes with a huge caveat - and that probably 80% of the work will be hammering-down everything else - but consider that Google’s Waymo is already well-past that already.


If Tesla is planning to do self-driving entirely with vision systems, they are more than a decade away from a driveway-to-driveway autonomy unless you mean from your driveway to your next door neighbor's driveway, seeing as how they can't identify trucks on a highway, stalled objects on a roadway, or, per Consumer Reports, stop signs, traffic lights, or road markings on any road other than major highways and streets.


> And yet every Tesla owner tells me that their car is just one update away from driving itself across the country.

I just drove my Tesla half way across the country and back last week. And based on the performance of Autosteer and the neighboring car visualizations they're nowhere close to Level 5 self driving.

Love the car and am a big Tesla/SpaceX fanboy. But I won't believe it'll achieve Level 5 until I see it.


> The entire infotainment system is a HTML 5 super computer,

Should have added some blockchain while he was at it.


They're pursuing a patent for that, so he was reluctant to talk about it. The blockchains are embedded into HTML tags using proprietary, secure data attributes. It's hash encrypted using CSS3, which is the standard algorithmic formulation language used by all programmers to control how data is shared.


"At our new hospital, we're using stethoscopes," he said. "That's an industry-standard tool for doctors around the world. Because of that, we can perform advanced procedures, like hemorrhoidectomy and brain transplant."


I've known plenty of manager types that have a very little understanding of the technology involved with their product. A lot of times they try to parrot what their technical team is telling them. Some can be very good at it, other sound like idiots because they have little true understanding of the technology. But that's okay, since their true expertise is in putting together a company or organization that outputs a successful product. It requires being able to manage and inspire people to get the best from them. And countless other parts that I can't even imagine. It does not require a CEO to get too deep in the weeds of the technology. A CEO does not have to know everything, he just has to hire and manage the people that will do the parts he doesn't know. Technology has very little to do with that but expertise on how people work and function has everything to do with it.

BTW, they sound like idiots to the people that understand the technology but that's a small subset of all people. Most people have even less understanding than the CEO. So they get influence by his charm and finesse. What most people would call BS around here.


Actually - just the opposite.

Most people do not really know how HTML works, and nobody but technical people should really.

Or at least - they could make major mistakes in communication.

If he was 'my CEO' I would understand that he was trying to say 'Infotainment is a platform, built on extensible tech that everyone knows how to use' - this is fair.

It seems like Nikola is a fraud, but this isn't the red flag actually. This is standard miscommunication.


I agree this could be easily understood as a result of some internal talks where they switched platforms and he got a report saying "We don't need to rewrite the infotainment system, it's mostly HTML5, so we're all good even after we switched from X to the customised ARM foo". It's still stupid, but doesn't mean he's actively lying here.


I'm not convinced thats fraud but probably just "CEO bullshitter who only speaks in buzzwords in public" (referring to the interview). I also don't think anyone at GM (through whatever technical diligence they hopefully did) didn't bank on HTML5 as a chip-enablement strategy.


Wow that is just complete gibberish. I haven’t been plugged into these incidents and didn’t realize there were such issues. Is this an indictment of news media? I feel like I’ve mostly been fed vague but confidently positive news bites before this discussion.


At least he's talking about the infotainment system, and not an internal system or something where there's no conceivable use for HTML/JS.


I wouldn't care if you're building an actual website, calling something "an HTML5 super computer" is total bullshit in any context.


Can someone emulate a Cray using JS and HTML 5 please? I want to see this HTML 5 super computer.


> "so using it let's us build our own chips"

what is the connection between HTML5 and building your own chips?


That one’s pretty obvious: The custom quantum chips enable hardware-accelerated HTML5 and power the deep neural nets that drive carbon emissions to zero.


If you really want to be charitable, it could just be it benchmarks well with Js. Maybe cache hierarchy or instruction extensions like Arm v8.3

The "build our own chips" could be like when people call entire computer towers "CPUs" and really just mean build the infotainment boards how they like. HTML 5 gives them easy portability in the case they want to change things out.

Security would probably refer to embedding something like Chromium and taking advantage of their sandbox

And "data network instead of stuff just working" could mean something like local network RPC/REST over HTTPS instead of CAN which is much more general purpose

-

This is all a lot of stretching... but sometimes non-technical people try to very confidently regurgitate technical things they hear while filling in the gaps

Especially because they don't realize how small changes in terms have such outsized changes in meaning (hence the calling a computer tower a CPU)


Both are things that get non-tech savvy investors excited, apparently.


"...I use CSS too!"

stock goes up 10%


They are both Venture Capital-strength buzzwords.


It's hard for me to wrap my head around time. Over 20 years ago the CxO of Sun came to one of the big automotive events and said a car is just a browser on wheels. I think he was selling coffee. Er Java? Been too long.


You think he's a fraud simply because he bullshitted his way through some computer sales pitch? In a way, I have a ton of respect for people willing to even try this kind of thing in public

If he could talk lucidly about things like HTML I'd think that lent more credence to the possibility he didn't have a clue about hydrogen

edit: for the downvoters, if you haven't seen one of these "bear thesis" articles before, understand you must do at least as much homework as the bear claims to have done before accepting anything you read. Of course Nikola is a dodgy company, but it's also a social phenomenon. That's the value in it for the likes of GM, and also for the average investor -- including the professionals. At one stage YouTube was the largest video piracy company on the planet before a larger company swallowed them up and cut deals to legitimize what they'd done. Meanwhile, everyone knew the brand. You can consider what's happening here to be something roughly comparable


You have a ton of respect for people who will lie through their teeth to make a sale?

Why should we not assume his HTML5 knowledge is roughly equivalent to his hydrogen car knowledge?


In another window I have a thesaurus open looking for a word that conveys only the subset of meanings of respect that don't intersect with approval, something that captures the fascination, the horror of the carnival barker personality and the way we are seduced and bamboozled by their spectacle of bullshit. I think we have to admit that we actually enjoy aspects of this seduction. We love listening to a raconteur, stories of a con man, but the rock star we love from a hundred feet back in the throng of the crowd, smells like their own urine up close. I think if we're going to find a way to build a society wide immune response against bullshit we need to be honest that we enjoy a performance, and a sure fire way to improve a performance is to unshackle it from the constraints of reality and integrity.


Would you withdraw your savings from a bank because the cashier didn't understand HTML 5? Why should we not assume operating a cash drawer is roughly equivalent to HTML 5 knowledge?


1. He’s a vastly more senior person than a cashier.

2. It’s not the lack of understanding that’s concerning. It’s the confident wrongness.


I wouldn't expect the cashier to be selling me a product they didn't understand either. If my bank tried to sell me a new security because it was backed by custom chips running HTML, I would probably switch banks as well.

Lying with confidence is, after all, where the "con" in con man comes from.


Fair enough. But what kind of person lies about the existence of solar panels on their roof?

> Trevor claimed that Nikola’s headquarters has 3.5 megawatts of solar panels on its roof producing energy. Aerial photos of the roof and later media reports show that the supposed panels don’t exist.


I don't have respect for people that bullshit their way through situations that fraudulently entice investors to put their money into a company.


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I think he's started some great companies. I also don't have much respect for him as a person.


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I think there's a difference between saying "Here is a demo of some tech on a pig that, some day, could treat depression in humans" and "We have treated depression and cured it, as you can see from this demo. Also, this is not a pig, it is a human."

Elon loves the former. Trevor appears to love the latter.


I'm not sure what you're getting at here: I've already said that I don't have much respect for either person.

It seems like you're trying to say that because Elon does it and has been successful, it's okay for Trevor to do it in his own pursuit of success. Which is a big nope nope nope. It just means both of them are doing shady things.


Is Neuralink publicly traded?

Forward thinking, speculative claims aren’t the same as fraud.


it's the cherry on top of everything else he's bullshitted through.

nothing about his background or experience gives any legitimacy to him being in a position of "electric truck CEO and mogul"


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