Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk held court Wednesday night before a packed crowd at Cal State University Bakersfield's Doré Theatre, in the college's new guest lecture series.
The founder of PayPal, and the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and chairman of SolarCity delivered a free ranging talk that covered everything from travel to Mars to high speed rail.
Musk criticized the state's high speed rail plan, saying that it isn't "cool." Musk:
"It seems like when the people of California approved the high speed rail, they were kind of sold one thing, and then it's like bait-and-switch, deliver something else. I think people generally think high speed rail would be cool. It would be like, 'yeah, they have it in Japan and China, and we should have that here.' And I would agree with that. But the high speed rail that's being implemented is significantly worse than the one that's in Japan, and it can't even hold a candle to the one that's in China. So it's like 'that's not cool.'" [laughter]
Earlier this year, Musk unveiled a conceptual proposal for what he calls a "hyperloop" - a high speed, low pressure tubeway that would transport passengers from Southern California to the Bay Area at subsonic speeds. Musk:
"It's literally 40-year-old technology. And like 'hey, we're California, we should do something that's badass. This is embarrassing.' So to be clear, I'm actually in favor of high speed rail if it's done right, and it doesn't have to a hyperloop or anything. It's just we should be aiming for things that are better than have been done in the past. Or at least as good as, like if you the best thing from somewhere else in the world, that should at least be par. That should be like the passing grade, but we should actually aim for something that's better. I think people when they voted in favor [of high speed rail] they thought they were getting the good one, but that's not the case."
He also addressed issues relating to California's economic climate as compared with other states, saying that he chose to start his businesses here due to proximity to top talent, despite regulatory difficulties.
"It is true that California can be its own worst enemy. I mean, I think California does have a lot to offer, but at the same time, it would be a smart move to be complacent in that regard. Because we have seen a lot of companies that might have been started in California, get started in other states. Amazon is a good example. All in all, I think California is an awesome state and I love living here, even though taxes and regulations are pretty darn high. But I think over time there should be some move to maybe reduce regulation and see if the tax level is really the right level."
Musk was introduced by Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who hailed him as a technology visionary on the level of Thomas Edison and Eli Whitney. McCarthy says he invited Musk to be the first speaker in the new Distinguished Speakers series as part of his effort to boost entrepreneurship in Kern County.
"People talk about Kern County and Bakersfield in a tone that I don't believe is right. We do things here that are exceptional, and sometimes we don't celebrate them," says McCarthy. "Fortunately in the position that I'm in, I get to run into some very exceptional people. So I sat down with Greg (Bynum) and said, 'why don't we do this, why don't we find the brightest minds in the country and bring them into Bakersfield?' One that they could understand what we do, but that we could also celebrate what we do and be a part of it."