Elon Musk predicts that his company SpaceX will be capable of operating a full mission to Mars – from launch to landing and back again – as soon as 2019. “I think we’ll be able to do short flights, up and down flights, some time in the first half of next year,” said Musk at the South by South West (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. While Musk’s deadline may seem a bit optimistic, his urgency seems to be guided by pessimism regarding Earth’s future. “There’s likely to be another dark ages… particularly if there’s a third world war,” said Musk, who has made the case that Mars must be colonized to inoculate humanity from destroying itself completely on Earth.

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“Sometimes my timelines are a little… y’know,” said Musk at SXSW, recognizing that a 2019 departure for a mission to Mars may not be doable. That doesn’t mean that SpaceX won’t try. In the meantime, Musk shared his ideas on how a Mars colony would be organized. “I think most likely the form of government on Mars would be a direct democracy, where people vote directly on issues,” he said. “Everyone votes on every issue and that’s how it goes.”

Related: Scientist warns Elon Musk’s Starman could be a bio-threat to Mars

Musk also spoke about his concerns regarding artificial intelligence. “AI is far more dangerous than nukes,” he said. “This is a situation where you have a very serious danger to the public. There needs to be a public body that has insight and oversight so that everyone is delivering AI safely. This is extremely important. Nobody would suggest that we allow anyone to just build nuclear warheads if they want, that would be insane. My point was AI is far more dangerous than nukes. So why do we have no regulatory oversight? It’s insane.” While Musk is concerned with World War III or an AI apocalypse, he is equally energized by the commercial opportunities presented by a Mars colony. Pizza places will be in need on Mars, he said, as will Mars bars.


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