In 1952, Wernher von Braun, the Nazi inventor of the V-2 rocket, wrote a famous article that, with astonishing prescience, foresaw the reach for space. He called the creation of a space station “as inevitable as the rising of the sun.” Von Braun went on to oversee the invention of the American Saturn V rocket, which took the US to the Moon.
In a way, von Braun was a loose forerunner of our own age’s new hybrid entrepreneur: grand showmen—really technological propagandists—who lay out a fantastical future, then go on to make it happen. These are no mere Silicon Valley cellphone designer-engineers. Rather, like von Braun, they are thinkers with a larger purpose and often an interest in rocketry, like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and of course, Elon Musk. The Tesla and SpaceX founder’s “reality-distortion field” eclipses even that of Steve Jobs, whose company, Apple, celebrated its 40th anniversary this week.
Musk polarizes opinion—is he a grounded entrepreneur? A conman? Perhaps an unhinged nut? But much of the sniping has fallen away as he has produced much-admired electric cars.
Still, the jury remained out until this week’s unveiling of the Tesla Model 3, Musk’s make-or-break, $35,000 model. Musk said it would bring electrics to the masses; detractors said neither the technology nor the market was there yet.
But now the market has spoken. In less than 24 hours, about 200,000 motorists around the world plonked down $1,000 each to reserve a Model 3, sight unseen, at least 18 months and possibly three years before delivery. If completed, those orders will be worth over $8 billion. True, those deposits are refundable; but in effect, Musk has made every Tesla customer a venture capitalist, a triumph that is partly technological, but partly one of extraordinary marketing. Even Jobs might have been jealous.—Steve LeVine
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
The psychology of the Trump effect. How has Donald Trump managed to dominate the Republican presidential race? Gwynn Guilford spent time as a crowd member at his rallies, and found that, while he manipulates his audience with propaganda, he’s also giving voice to a conversation about America’s destiny that’s been happening behind closed doors for a very long time.
Immersive cinema: best avoided. The ”4D” movie experience includes getting spritzed with water when it rains in the movie and getting a punch in the back when someone is shot. Adam Epstein tried it for the new Batman vs Superman:Dawn of Justice. His conclusion: 3D is all the Ds you need. Plus, a history of Hollywood’s failed past attempts at immersion, from “AromaRama” to the “D-Box.”
European politics: more polarized than ever. Greece’s Syriza, France’s Front National, Britain’s UKIP… Extremists, on both left and right, seem to be winning more victories in Europe. As Christopher Groskopf finds, the data back it up: lawmakers from the center have dwindled in number while the extremes have grown, in both national parliaments and in the European one.
How machine beat man. Google’s AlphaGo defeated Go champion Lee Sedol last month by making moves that went against 2,500 years of received wisdom about how to play the game. Nikhil Sonnad and Joon Ian Wong explain just what was so remarkable about it, in a graphical analysis that non-Go-players can understand.
The 11 lines that broke the internet. A minor trademark dispute, a couple of ill-tempered emails, and bam—some of the services the world’s biggest websites depend on starting failing when an irate programmer deleted a tiny piece of open-source code from the web. Keith Collins on the tale that shows just how fragile our digital ecosystem really is.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
How Donald Trump hacked the US media. Read Guilford (above) to understand how Trump wins over voters; read Nate Silver’s detailed analysis of nine months of campaign coverage to understand how he dominates the media. It’s his knack not for making headlines per se, but for hijacking the discussion that gives him his Teflon quality and stops critical coverage from gaining traction.
How a 20-something Colombian hacked Latin American democracy. Businessweek’s story of the computer whiz who says he helped steal elections all across the region is a Hollywood thriller all the way, down to the tattoos on the back of his shaven head. If true, it also suggests democracy everywhere is even more easily manipulated than you thought.
Forensic fear and loathing in Las Vegas. Forensic science is riven with scandals about dubious methods that have led to wrongful convictions, yet questionable new sub-disciplines—”forensic podiatry”, anyone?—keep emerging. The Intercept’s Liliana Segura and Jordan Smith report on the sometimes fraught and often unintentionally hilarious atmosphere as the profession grappled with its own contradictions at its annual meetup in the US’s gambling capital.
An island, no longer divided? The leaders of both Greek- and Turkish-speaking Cyprus are of the last generation to have come of age before the island split. For Politico, Sara Stefanini reports on how they represent the last, best hope for ending one of Europe’s longest-running frozen conflicts, as a mix of economic weakness, Turkey’s EU ambitions, and a potential gas bonanza push them closer together.
The wit and wisdom of the urban raccoon. Unlike many animals, raccoons have thrived as humans encroach on their habitat. The elaborate ways that people in Toronto protect their garbage bins from prying paws have spurred the animals to develop intelligence and abilities that their country counterparts lack, writes Jude Isabella for Nautilus.
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