PALO ALTO (CBS SF/CNN) -- Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year after becoming "the richest example of a massive shift in our society."
"Person of the Year is a marker of influence, and few individuals have had more influence than Musk on life on Earth, and potentially life off Earth too," Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal wrote. "In 2021, Musk emerged not just as the world's richest person but also as perhaps the richest example of a massive shift in our society."
It was indeed a banner year for Musk, who garnered attention for becoming the richest person in the world in part due to the rise in Tesla's stock price. With SpaceX, Musk launched the first-ever mission to Earth's orbit with a crew of only tourists and no professional astronauts.
This tradition from Time began in 1927 as "Man of the Year" and has since changed to not only recognize an individual, but also to consider the impact of a group, movement or idea that had the most influence in the past year. In 2020, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were picked together as of Person of the Year. The annual choice is not necessarily considered an honor, since the selection could have wielded negative influence. For example, Adolf Hitler was named Man of the Year in 1938.
Some of Musk's online behavior has gotten him into trouble and at times distracted from his accomplishments. In 2018, the US Securities and Exchange Commission charged him with fraud for tweeting that he was considering taking Tesla private. He agreed to a deal that involved having Tesla lawyers approve tweets that would affect shareholders but a recent Wall Street Journal report said two tweets violated that agreement.
In his writeup introducing Musk as Person of the Year, Felsenthal called attention to his "persona," describing it as a "blunt instrument that often seems to revel in division and aggressive mockery," which the public sees through his frequent use of Twitter.
The safety of Tesla cars have also been under scrutiny. The company's Autopilot software is under federal investigation for crashes that have occurred with parked emergency vehicles, and a recent New York Times investigation questioned the software's safety. In a sit-down interview with Time, Musk addressed some of the concerns.
"The statistics that I think are at this point unequivocal that far more accidents off Autopilot than on Autopilot," Musk said. "This is not to say that Autopilot is perfect. Now you get to full self driving where you don't need to pay attention. We still obviously have a lot of work to do."
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