A mind-reading helmet please, Mr Billionaire

A mind-reading helmet please, Mr Billionaire
Amazon.com Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos.

There is rich, and then there is Jeff Bezos rich. The founder and chief executive of Amazon.com just bought a newspaper business - The Washington Post - the way the rest of us pick up a newspaper at the shops. The Post cost him US$250 million (S$318 million), just a fraction of his US$25 billion personal net worth.

The co-founder of PayPal, Elon Musk (net worth: US$7 billion), also dipped a gold-encrusted toe into the Far Out Idea pond recently by proposing a futuristic high-speed rail system, Hyperloop. This is how it works: Make a big airtight tunnel between cities, suck the air out, and the metal tubes (with passengers inside) will be pushed along by magnets at whatever speed you like.

It's an idea that sends a childish thrill down my immature spine because it fits the mould of the classic billionaire scheme: It's big, bold, and just a wee bit nutty. And if things go wrong, they will go wrong in a spectacular, viral-video kind of way, with lots of screaming and people running in all directions.

The nice thing with being a billionaire is that even if you spout off about subjects you know nothing about, the world pays attention. Now, if I were to call for a press conference announcing my plan for lasting peace in the Middle East, I don't think anyone would show up, even if I promised a nice cake. But insert the word "billionaire" into my resume and presto! A full house.

So even if the title of my speech were, say, Snails: Nature's Wart Cure, I'd know CNN would be interested, or at least send an intern. And that is key to the Bezos and Musk story. Neither has a background in the newspaper business or mass rapid transit systems, yet neither feels the least bit discouraged in pursuing the idea. Nor has it stopped the world from listening and speculating.

Maverick mogul masterplans fascinate me but lately, I've suffered greatly from a dry spell. Some years ago, Musk unveiled the Tesla electric car and the SpaceX reusable spacecraft. Richard Branson founded the Virgin Galactic space tourism company in 2004.

Go further back, to 2001, and there is the Segway personal transporter from inventor Dean Kamen.

But what have the others in the Megabucks Club done lately to keep my hopes for a cool sci-fi future alive?

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