George Hotz: The 26-year-old Who Hacked Up A Self-Driving Car

A few days before Thanksgiving, George Hotz, a 26-year-old hacker, invites me to his house in San Francisco to check out a project he’s been working on. He says it’s a self-driving car that he had built in about a month. The claim seems absurd. But when I turn up that morning, in his garage there’s a white 2016 Acura ILX outfitted with a laser-based radar (lidar) system on the roof and a camera mounted near the rearview mirror. A tangle of electronics is attached to a wooden board where the glove compartment used to be, a joystick protrudes where you’d usually find a gearshift, and a 21.5-inch screen is attached to the center of the dash. “Tesla only has a 17-inch screen,” Hotz says.

He’s been keeping the project to himself and is dying to show it off. We pace around the car going over the technology. Hotz fires up the vehicle’s computer, which runs a version of the Linux operating system, and strings of numbers fill the screen. When he turns the wheel or puts the blinker on, a few numbers change, demonstrating that he’s tapped into the Acura’s internal controls.

The inside of Hotz’s car

After about 20 minutes of this, and sensing my skepticism, Hotz decides there’s really only one way to show what his creation can do. “Screw it,” he says, turning on the engine. “Let’s go.”

As a scrawny 17-year-old known online as “geohot,” Hotz was the first person to hack Apple’s iPhone, allowing anyone—well, anyone with a soldering iron and some software smarts—to use the phone on networks other than AT&T’s. He later became the first person to run through a gantlet of hard-core defense systems in the Sony PlayStation 3 and crack that open, too. Over the past couple years, Hotz had been on a walkabout, trying to decide what he wanted to do next, before hitting on the self-driving car idea as perhaps his most audacious hack yet.

Here’s the rest of the story on Hotz.

Lowell Wood: America’s Most Prolific Inventor

“It’s really a one-person sort of vehicle,” says Lowell Wood, right after he offers me a lift back to my hotel. His brown 1996 Toyota 4Runner, parked outside his office building in Bellevue, Washington, has 300,000-plus miles on the odometer and looks it. Garbage bags full of Lord-knows-what take up most of the back. He squeezes his paunchy, 6-foot-2-inch frame behind the wheel and, using his cane, whacks away papers, more bags, and an ’80s-vintage car phone to clear some room on the passenger side. The interior smells like pet kibble. Wood puts the keys in the ignition and then spends half a minute jiggling them vigorously until the truck finally starts. As we pull away, I wonder aloud if all the detritus crammed in his SUV could be from a hobby. “No, I don’t have time for any of that,” Wood says. He adds that he’s not terribly good with the ordinary aspects of life—paying bills, say, or car washing. He’s too consumed with inventing solutions to the world’s problems. Ideas—really big ideas—keep bombarding his mind. “It’s like the rain forest,” he says. “Every afternoon, the rains come.”

Lowell Wood at work

From most people, a comment like that would be preposterously self-important, if not delusional. But Wood is just telling the truth. At 74, he’s been an inventor-in-residence at Intellectual Ventures, a technology research and patent firm, for about a decade. He’s paid to think and orchestrate international teams to develop products such as anticoncussion helmets, drug-delivery systems, super­efficient nuclear reactors—anything, really, that might address some pressing need. In the 1980s he led the development of the space lasers that were meant to shield the U.S. from Soviet missiles as part of the “Star Wars” program. He’s an astrophysicist, a self-trained paleontologist and computer scientist, and, as of a few months ago, the most prolific inventor in U.S. history.

Here’s the rest of the piece on Lowell Wood.

 

 

The Superstar of Sport Coding

At 21, Gennady Vladimirovich Korotkevich is already a legend. Tourist, as he’s known online, is now the world’s top sport programmer. He competes against other people to solve coding puzzles, and he’s darn good at it. Perhaps too good.

“Probably the only person making a living at sport programming is Gennady because he wins so many of the competitions,” says Vladimir Novakovski, a retired sport programmer who still follows the competitions closely. “We’ve never seen anyone like him.”

With his skills, Korotkevich could get a high-paying job at just about any company in Silicon Valley. But the Belarusian isn’t ready to be a coding professional just yet. This fall he’ll return to class at Saint Petersburg State University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics, he’s said, in possible preparation for a career in science.

 

Gennady

It would be nice to tell you that sport coding is riveting to watch. And it would be equally nice to dish on the charms of the sport’s current superstar programming god. The reality of the situation, however, is that sport coding does not offer much in the way of high drama or charismatic personalities. Still, sport coding has gone relatively unnoticed for too long. It’s a form of competition that rewards natural talent, perseverance, and teamwork. And, even more crucial for life in 2015, being a good sport coder is a surefire way for an 18-year-old to get noticed by the thousands of companies looking to rain money down on talented software developers.

And here’s the rest of the piece from Bloomberg.

Elon Musk, First Martian? A Serious Conversation About the Future in Space

I recently had a chance to sit down with Andy Weir, the author of The Martian. We both live in Mountain View, Calif. and have basically cornered the market on martians and hopeful martians. Weir did me the favor of analyzing the plans for Mars that Elon Musk lays out in my book and giving his take on whether or not Musk will in fact be the first Martian. The interview also hits on NASA’s future. Weir is a good, quirky dude. Hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

Source: Elon Musk, First Martian? A Serious Conversation About the Future in Space

The True Story of Elon Musk, Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark

When setting out to write this book on Elon Musk, I wanted to try and make the story accessible to as many people as possible. Yes, it’s a book full of electric cars and rockets and technology, but it’s much, much more than that. Musk’s life feels at many times like the stuff of a modern Shakespearean tragedy. There’s great suffering, back-stabbing in the boardroom, near-death experiences, tumultuous romance, fortunes won and lost and won again and a main character who may well be the most interesting man alive.

It’s been so gratifying to receive e-mails and other messages from people who devoured the book in one sitting. I always meant this to be a gripping tale first and foremost and a tome about business in the background. Many people helped make this possible along the way, including Elon, his family and a handful of the celebrities in his circle.

iron_man_stills

Robert Downey Jr. was one celebrity who provided some deep insight for me into the grandeur of Elon’s world. During our interview, he provided the most detailed account ever of how Elon came to inform and inspire the way Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark in the Iron Films. And here’s a taste of that. This is the start of Chapter 8 – Pain, Suffering and Survival:

AS HE PREPARED TO BEGIN FILMING IRON MAN IN EARLY 2007, the director Jon Favreau rented out a complex in Los Angeles that once belonged to Hughes Aircraft, the aerospace and defense contractor started about eighty years earlier by Howard Hughes. The facility had a series of interlocking hangars and served as a production office for the movie. It also supplied Robert Downey Jr., who was to play Iron Man and his human creator Tony Stark, with a splash of inspiration. Downey felt nostalgic looking at one of the larger hangars, which had fallen into a state of disrepair. Not too long ago, that building had played host to the big ideas of a big man who shook up industries and did things his own way.

Downey heard some rumblings about a Hughes-like figure named Elon Musk who had constructed his own, modern-day industrial complex about ten miles away. Instead of visualizing how life might have been for Hughes, Downey could perhaps get a taste of the real thing. He set off in March 2007 for SpaceX’s headquarters in El Segundo and wound up receiving a personal tour from Musk. “My mind is not easily blown, but this place and this guy were amazing,” Downey said.

To Downey, the SpaceX facility looked like a giant, exotic hardware store. Enthusiastic employees were zipping about, fiddling with an assortment of machines. Young white-collar engineers interacted with blue-collar assembly line workers, and they all seemed to share a genuine excitement for what they were doing. “It felt like a radical start-up company,” Downey said. After the initial tour, Downey came away pleased that the sets being hammered out at the Hughes factory did have parallels to the SpaceX factory. “Things didn’t feel out of place,” he said.

Beyond the surroundings, Downey really wanted a peek inside Musk’s psyche. The men walked, sat in Musk’s office, and had lunch. Downey appreciated that Musk was not a foul-smelling, fidgety, coder whack job. What Downey picked up on instead were Musk’s “accessible eccentricities” and the feeling that he was an unpretentious sort who could work alongside the people in the factory. Both Musk and Stark were the type of men, according to Downey, who “had seized an idea to live by and something to dedicate themselves to” and were not going to waste a moment.

When he returned to the Iron Man production office, Downey asked that Favreau be sure to place a Tesla Roadster in Tony Stark’s workshop. On a superficial level, this would symbolize that Stark was so cool and connected that he could get a Road- ster before it even went on sale. On a deeper level, the car was to be placed as the nearest object to Stark’s desk so that it formed something of a bond between the actor, the character, and Musk. “After meeting Elon and making him real to me, I felt like having his presence in the workshop,” Downey said. “They became contemporaries. Elon was someone Tony probably hung out with and partied with or more likely they went on some weird jungle trek together to drink concoctions with the shamans.”

After Iron Man came out, Favreau began talking up Musk’s role as the inspiration for Downey’s interpretation of Tony Stark. It was a stretch on many levels. Musk is not exactly the type of guy who downs scotch in the back of a Humvee while part of a military convoy in Afghanistan. But the press lapped up the comparison, and Musk started to become more of a public fig- ure. People who sort of knew him as “that PayPal guy” began to think of him as the rich, eccentric businessman behind SpaceX and Tesla.

Musk enjoyed his rising profile. It fed his ego and provided some fun. He and Justine bought a house in Bel Air. Their neighbor to one side was Quincy Jones, the music producer, and their other neighbor was Joe Francis, the infamous creator of the Girls Gone Wild videos. Musk and some former PayPal executives, having settled their differences, produced Thank You for Smoking and used Musk’s jet in the movie. While not a hard-drinking carouser, Musk took part in the Hollywood nightlife and its social scene. “There were just a lot of parties to go to,” said Bill Lee, Musk’s close friend. “Elon was neighbors with two quasi-celebrities. Our friends were making movies and through this confluence of our networks, there was something to go out and do every night.” In one interview, Musk calculated that his life had become 10 percent playboy and 90 percent engineer.10 “We had a domestic staff of five; during the day our home transformed into a workplace,” Justine wrote in magazine article. “We went to black-tie fund- raisers and got the best tables at elite Hollywood nightclubs, with Paris Hilton and Leonardo DiCaprio partying next to us. When Google cofounder Larry Page got married on Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island, we were there, hanging out in a villa with John Cusack and watching Bono pose with swarms of adoring women outside the reception tent.”

Excerpted from Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Published by Ecco, a division of HarperCollins © 2015 by Ashlee Vance