What if Elon Musk’s Rage Emails Are Actually Just Gmail Smart Replies?

A collage of smart-reply email lines hypothetically from Elon Musk.
Illustration by Slate. Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

Gmail’s redesign, which debuted in the spring and has been gradually rolling out to inboxes across the internet all summer, gives increased real estate to so-called smart replies, which suggest short, one-click responses to emails. They’re usually fairly innocuous phrases like, “Sounds good!” or “Can’t wait!” The smart replies are generated by a machine learning algorithm scanning your inbox, but until now, it’s been unclear how much the suggested responses are capable of mimicking a particular person’s email style. Do they just flatten everyone into a blandly peppy corporate automaton or are they capable of reflecting one’s personality? What about someone like, say, Elon Musk, whose outré email style has been getting a lot of attention over the past few days? In reports from Business Insider and BuzzFeed, Musk reveals himself to be possibly even more of a madman in his inbox than he is on Twitter.

In a miraculous coincidence, Slate has obtained access to Elon Musk’s Gmail after the mogul inadvertently left a Century City, Los Angeles, Apple Store recently without logging out.* Imagine that, a man who trained his (erstwhile?) pop-star girlfriend to communicate in Signal isn’t such an infosec master after all! While we can’t share most of what we learned—legal reasons, blah blah blah—from the looks of his inbox, Google’s A.I. has gotten scarily good at imitating the CEO’s eccentrically curt missives. At this point, Gmail’s “smart reply” bot is fully trained to replicate his fragile and impatient ego—so much so that it’s unclear who’s responsible for some of his recent howlers, real Elon or smart-reply Elon. Here’s a sampling of what Musk’s smart replies look like:


Workplace shorthand Musk uses to offer, er, constructive feedback to Tesla managers and check in on issues. If it drives his deputies into a scrambled panic, well … that’s called managing, look it up. No time for hugs and kisses when you have three companies to run.

[No reply]

Tesla has an open-inbox policy, but workers told Business Insider that that most common response from Musk is no response. In terms of efficiency, this is actually the smartest reply of all, because it doesn’t require a single click.

Off the record.

Gmail is usually able to tell when Musk is communicating with a journalist and provide this phrase, which as all journalists know and learn in journalism school is a get-out-of-jail-free card for sources to completely go off. Somewhat inconveniently, journalistic institutions like BuzzFeed don’t always see it that way, though, arguing, “Per common journalistic practice, a conversation is off the record only if both parties agree to the terms.” These people!

On background.

When “off the record” doesn’t work, Musk has this guy on deck. It didn’t fly with BuzzFeed either—see above—but worth a try.

[Link to a Google search for child trafficking]

Elon Musk doesn’t have time to Google “child trafficking” for every single person emailing him who needs to be educated about child trafficking, something he alleged a diving instructor did without offering evidence. So it’s useful that he can add in this link with one click.

The monsoon arrived later than expected.

A good catchall excuse, whether discussing why a submarine rescue mission didn’t work or some other thing that fell through. Monsoons: classically unpredictable!

The prime minister thanked me personally per attached docs.

For when Musk wants to offer proof that a prime minister thanked him personally for a good deed, lent submarine, or similar.

You fucking asshole.

Clippy used to ask Microsoft Word users if they were writing letters and help with the formatting—it made the process super easy. In a similar way, Gmail has learned to pepper “You fucking asshole” throughout Musk’s emails like an honorific. CEOs are very busy and Musk gains crucial seconds this way.

I fucking hope he sues me.

Handy, because this comes up more than you would think.

*Not really. Just having a little fun with famous sense-of-humor-haver Elon Musk!