A distraction and an empty promise
After a lengthy presentation on the unquestionably remarkable work, Tesla is doing in AI, Elon Musk, the company’s Technoking, brought out a spandex-clad dancer to cap the evening. Behold, said Musk: my Tesla Bot.
He said that the dancer in the suit was the model for the new humanoid robot Tesla will be producing shortly. The applause and dubstep had subsided, and the briefing slides that promised that the Tesla Bot would stand at five feet eight inches (1.7m), be 125 pounds (56kg), and have “human-level hands” and be able to eliminate “dangerous and repetitive, boring tasks” were discarded.
A ROBOT IS A TESLA WITHOUT WHEELS. SAYS MUSK
Musk stated that Musk’s goal to build a human-replacement robotics system — something that no other company is even close to being able, was a natural step in Tesla’s efforts to develop self-driving cars. Musk said that cars are semi-sentient robots with wheels. It makes sense to add that to a humanoid body. We are also very skilled at actuators, batteries, and sensors, so we expect to have a prototype next year that looks something like this.
It was an extraordinary and brilliant piece of tomfoolery, even by Musk’s standards. A multipurpose sideshow that entertained Tesla skeptics and fed the fans while also creating headlines. The latter is particularly important in a week when most Tesla news has focused on a federal investigation into the company’s Autopilot software to crash into parked emergency vehicles. Musk says that all this is irrelevant. Just look at the man in the spandex suit. It’ll be an actual robot next year, I promise.
Lmao this is how he made his announcement? pic.twitter.com/6Ktybjyeav— Ryan Mac🙃 (@RMac18) August 20, 2021
Are you willing to believe him? Do you think he is a fool? Although I can’t answer your question, I will give you the facts. Last night, Elon Musk took to the stage to promise that Tesla, a company with driver assistance software that cannot avoid parked ambulances reliably, would soon create a fully functioning humanoid robotic machine. Musk stated that the device would follow human instructions and respond correctly to commands such as “please go to the store and get me these groceries.” This was just minutes after he had shown a spandex-clad dancer demonstrating the Tesla Bot. You have to admire Musk’s chutzpah.
To help Musk understand his claims, it is important to remember that Boston Dynamics, which made Atlas, the most advanced bipedal robotic robot globally, has never called its machines anything other than R&D. It’s far from commercial deployment. In recent machine videos, the company showed how difficult building a bipedal robot is and how often Atlas trips and falls. Boston Dynamics has been working with Atlas and its bipedal predecessors for more than a decade. __S.50__
“[CALLING IT] HORSESHIT SOUNDS GENEROUS AND FRANKLY.”
Carl Berry, a UK University of Central Lancashire lecturer in robotics engineering, told me that “Calling it horse shit sounds generously honest.” Berry said that robotics and AI should not be used in manufacturing research.
He said that while he didn’t deny Tesla’s research into this topic was a bad thing, “but they and Boston Dynamics leave the public with unrealistic expectations about what robotics can do or will do for many years.”
I don’t doubt Musk can make something that looks like the Tesla Bot in 2022. It wouldn’t be hard to make a decent automaton — something on the level of Disney’s more advanced theme park models, for example. He can send it into space once he has it walking out on stage, just for the headlines. It will just be another distraction if he does. While robotics significantly impacts manufacturing, there is no reason to assume that robots don’t need to look like humans to do so.
Musk often uses this bait-and-switch method. Think about the changes Musk made to his Hyperloop plans over time. The technology was announced as a railgun-like train system that would move people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than half an hour. Over the years, these ambitions have shrunk until the project morphed into The Loop: a small tunnel that you can drive a car through if you want. Also known as A tunnel.
The Tesla Bot reminded me of Sophia, the automated chatbot who has appeared on magazine covers and chat shows. Sophia relies on misdirection to fool audiences and is a frequent target of AI experts’ scorn. It also has a job. As one of the robot’s creators, Ben Goertzel, told me in 2017, Sophia works by priming our imagination, encouraging us to fool ourselves into thinking the future is nearer than the evidence suggests. The robot generates news coverage and funding for its creators.
Goertzel stated, “If I tell people that I use probabilistic logic to reason on how to prune the backward-chaining inference trees in our logic engine,” They will feel more comfortable believing that AGI is possible if I show them a smiling robot face.
This is Musk’s goal, whether he is aiming to instill that feeling in investors or others. The Sophia strategy has a twist. Musk doesn’t need a simulacrum robot to sell his dream. He only needs a spandex-clad dancer. That’s innovation.