Which of this generation's biggest tech luminaries and innovators will ultimately be remembered for having the greatest lasting effect on the world?
It's a tough question, especially when you consider the role that people like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg play in our everyday lives. But, if you ask renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the answer is simple: Elon Musk.
"As important as Steve Jobs was, no doubt about it — [and] you have to add him to Bill Gates, because they birthed the personal computing revolution kind of together — here's the difference: Elon Musk is trying to invent a future, not by providing the next app," deGrasse Tyson tells CNBC Make It about the Tesla and SpaceX CEO.
"What Elon Musk is doing is not simply giving us the next app that will be awesome on our smartphone," deGrasse Tyson says. "No, he is thinking about society, culture, how we interact, what forces need to be in play to take civilization into the next century."
Between Musk's work at Tesla developing electric cars and his plans to put humans on Mars by 2024 (and, eventually, to colonize the planet), the billionaire tech executive is attempting to revolutionize both human transportation and space exploration, deGrasse Tyson says.
Of course, as an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, deGrasse Tyson might be expected to have a soft spot for Musk's grand intergalactic plans. But deGrasse Tyson, who also hosts the show "StarTalk" on the National Geographic Channel, argues that space colonization could have a tremendous impact on civilization, potentially eliminating the need for warring over dwindling natural resources.
"Because there's unlimited resources in space; resources that, on Earth, we fight wars over," deGrasse Tyson tells CNBC Make It. "In space, you don't need to fight a war, just go to another asteroid and get your resources. A whole category of war has the potential of evaporating entirely with the exploitation of space resources, which includes the unlimited access to energy as well."
That's the sort of universal issue that Musk is trying to tackle, deGrasse Tyson argues, which gives him the potential to have the greatest long-term effect on our civilization. "[H]e will transform civilization as we know it," deGrasse Tyson says.
Granted, Musk has had his share of detractors over the past year. Musk was forced to step down from his role as Tesla's chairman as part of a settlement with the SEC over a series of tweets in August in which he discussed taking Tesla private (the SEC alleged the tweets constituted fraud on Musk's part). The billionaire CEO has also received quite a bit of criticism for, among other things: seemingly smoking marijuana on video, calling a British cave diver a "pedo" on Twitter, and clashing with journalists during an earnings call.
However, deGrasse Tyson feels that Musk is somewhat underappreciated, though he argues that Musk is beloved by many people, including Tesla owners and anyone interested in space exploration. ("Go, Elon Musk! And, I don't care if he gets high," deGrasse Tyson jokes about the controversy over Musk supposedly using drugs.)
"People who own Teslas love their Tesla …" deGrasse Tyson says. "Anyone who knows and cares about space exploration knows and cares about Elon Musk."
"[W]e're on the frontier of the future of civilization, and no I don't think he gets his full due from all sectors of society," says deGrasse Tyson, "but ultimately he will when the sectors that he is pioneering transform the lives of those who currently have no clue that their life is about to change."
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