Elon Musk Visited “Real Time” To Talk AI and Social Media

A longer interview segment than usual got interesting near the end

Elon Musk
Elon Musk on this week's "Real Time With Bill Maher."

On Friday’s episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, Maher rattled off a list of his guest’s business ventures. That the guest was Elon Musk meant that this took a while. “Do you do all of these things in a single day?” Maher asked. “No,” Musk replied.

Maher opened the conversation with some flattery, stating that he admired Musk’s sense of humor and his ability to get things done. “A guy as important as you, who makes changes, could use your powers for evil and not good,” Maher said. Musk returned the flattery, saying that he had been in the audience for a Real Time taping many years earlier.

“You have talked about this ‘woke mind virus’ in really apocalyptic terms. You should explain why you don’t think it’s hyperbole,” Maher said. Musk went on to define the components of the “woke mind virus” as being anti-meritocratic and opposed to free speech. 

Maher sought to make common cause with Musk over the public criticism that both have taken, including both men being called conservative by outside observers. When it comes to Maher, who earlier in the episode had announced his plans to vote for Joe Biden in 2024, you could see where he was coming from. As for Musk, who — as of last fall — had said he would support Ron DeSantis if DeSantis won the Republican nomination in 2024, it wasn’t as hard to see where some of that criticism is coming from.

That said, Musk did bring up his record on sustainable technology — and given Maher’s frequent comments about the environment, this could have made for an interesting conversation. Instead, though, we mostly got the two men talking about wokeness. Or, to be more precise, we got the two men agreeing about wokeness. It wasn’t until much later in the interview that things took a more interesting turn.

Later in the conversation, Musk brought up the concept of “indoctrination,” and told a story that a friend of his had told him about what the friend’s high school-age child had learned. Musk got a round of applause for declaring that students should learn more about George Washington than just the fact that he was a slaveholder; on the other hand, I’m not sure that there is anyone who thinks otherwise. Alternately, there’s a reason the word “hearsay” doesn’t have positive connotations.

It wasn’t until late in the conversation that Maher revealed one of the areas where he disagrees with Musk: “Let’s have more babies and raise them on Mars — I don’t get that.” Their conversation turned to another area where the two overlapped — the state of AI — which made for much more interesting viewing. 

Musk made the case for more regulation of AI. “If one agrees that AI is a potential risk to the public, then there should be some regulatory body that oversees what companies are doing, so that they don’t cut corners and do something potentially dangerous,” he said.

The interview ended with Maher citing another thing the two men agree on. “I’d love to get high with you,” Maher said — one can only imagine what the two of them would say with less of a filter.

Some other notable moments from the episode:

  • Maher’s opening monologue began with a familiar formula and then swerved: “I know why you’re excited — yesterday was Take Your Children to Work Day. Maybe next year, Tucker Carlson’s kids.”
  • I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting a comparison between Fox News and Menudo, but one of those popped up in the monologue as well.
  • Joining Maher for the panel were Michael Moynihan of The Fifth Column podcast and An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the West author Konstantin Kisin.
  • Maher made a few Succession references during said discussion, which prompted Moynihan to reveal that he hasn’t watched the show in question.
  • The panel discussion began well, with areas of agreement and disagreement, but eventually grew more contentious. Maher was not amused when Kisin argued that the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan had led to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying, “You’re just pulling that out of your ass.”
  • One point on which all three agreed? Maher’s observation that “America is amazingly resilient and stable.”
  • Somehow this led to a heated discussion about Che Guevara t-shirts.
  • Moynihan was the only onstage participant to utter the phrase “woke mind virus” this episode.
  • No mid-panel comedy segment this week, given the length of the interview with Musk.
  • New Rules opened with Maher riffing on the quiche being served at the upcoming coronation: “Isn’t there any good English food they can serve? Oh, wait — there isn’t.”
  • The bulk of the segment focused on reflexive contrarianism and the case of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Maher noted that her age wasn’t in and of itself enough to raise questions about her fitness for office — “Carol Burnett is 90 and she keeps dropping sex tapes” — but some of her actions were. “With age comes wisdom,” Maher said, “but only if you can remember it.”

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