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Australian-born Playground Global founder Peter Barrett has message for Elon Musk

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Remy Varga
The Nightly
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The Australian-born entrepreneur who gave Elon Musk his first job describes the billionaire as a ‘sweet kid’ but says he wishes the SpaceX founder would focus on tech instead of ‘poking the bear’. 
The Australian-born entrepreneur who gave Elon Musk his first job describes the billionaire as a ‘sweet kid’ but says he wishes the SpaceX founder would focus on tech instead of ‘poking the bear’.  Credit: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

The Australian-born entrepreneur who gave Elon Musk his first job describes the billionaire as a “sweet kid”, but says he wishes the SpaceX founder would focus on revolutionary technology instead of “poking the bear”.

Venture capitalist Peter Barrett is the founder of Silicon Valley-based Playground Global, the largest investor in the newly announced $940 million supercomputer to be built in Brisbane.

Mr Barrett, who worked as a distinguished engineer at global computing giant Microsoft for 13 years, gave Musk his first job as a code writer for video game development company Rocket Science Games in the 1990s.

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He told The Nightly that Musk was a “brilliant engineer” who had done a great deal to push for decarbonisation and energy transformation, adding the billionaire’s electric vehicle company Tesla and spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX were amazing companies.

“I would love him to focus on creating transformative technologies and I don’t know why he wants to poke the bear with X and politics,” Mr Barrett said.

“But he’s a really brilliant engineer, really brilliant kid, great systems thinker and honestly just a very pleasant, sweet kid.

“I guess geniuses get bored sometimes and want to make life complicated for themselves.”

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Elon Musk was given his first job by Australian entrepreneur Peter Barrett, who recalls the now-billionaire as a “sweet kid”. Credit: CarExpert

Musk has been involved in a protracted battle with Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant after refusing to remove graphic content from X, formerly known as Twitter, due to concerns over censorship.

Last week, the Federal Court found Ms Inman’s Grant directive to globally block footage of the alleged terror stabbing of Assyrian Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel in western Sydney was unreasonable.

Musk in many ways has come to embody the entrepreneurial chutzpah of Silicon Valley, something Australia is widely considered to be lacking.

Mr Barrett said that Australian universities punched above their weight when it came to research and results, but until recently tech and science enthusiasts, like himself, had been forced to pursue their ideas overseas.

“The entrepreneurial energy is there and the talent is here,” he said.

“What’s missing is figuring out how to translate that science into companies.”

Mr Barrett said Australia was blessed with money, natural resources and intellectual capital, and said the trillions held by superannuation funds held the potential to transform Australia’s tech sector into a global powerhouse.

“These things are not science projects,” he said.

“They’re big businesses with big returns and billion-dollar order books.”

Mr Barrett said the $940m PsiQuantum quantum computer, funded by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments, was one example of attempts by local investors trying to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and Australia.

Billed by PsiQuantum, an American quantum computing company, as the “world’s first useful quantum computer”, it is slated to be operating in Brisbane by the end of 2027.

Mr Barrett said many things in nature could only be simulated by a quantum system, which posits objects by probability, unlike classical mechanics that puts objects in specific places at specific times.

“If I am working with an iron atom or working with a drug, I can directly translate an electron to an internal representation inside the quantum computer,” he said.

“It’s one-to-one mapping, and calculations that would be impossible on any classic computer are very straightforward for a quantum computer.

“You need a quantum machine to simulate quantum nature.”

Mr Barrett said the supercomputer was crucial in the design of medicines and materials as well as products such as batteries, solar panels and semiconductors.

“We know all these materials that we’ve stumbled across that have these magical properties,” he said.

“But the agency over nature to be able to design these things directly is going to change everything we do in ways that people don’t fully appreciate.”

Mr Barrett said the Australian Government’s groundbreaking AUKUS security partnership with the US and the UK also presented an opportunity to diversify and invigorate the domestic economy.

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