Tesla’s live-streamed A.I. Day event on Thursday was about more than just updating shareholders and fans on the evolution of the car maker’s Autopilot technology.
To show just how serious he and Tesla are about leading the world in artificial intelligence, Musk introduced the concept of the Tesla Bot, an autonomous humanoid designed to “eliminate dangerous, boring and repetitive tasks.” It was introduced in a portion of the talk titled “What’s Next for AI Beyond Our Vehicle Fleet.”
(While the actual Tesla Bot is still in development, a human dancer in a Tesla Bot costume gyrated to techno before Musk’s announcement.)
What’s new — It’s perhaps an odd choice of investment for a man who’s famously said A.I. will pose a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization” and sees A.I. as a bigger threat than nuclear war. He’s argued Mars is where humanity can go if evil robots threaten Earth.
But it’s also easy to forecast a future for Tesla Bot beyond terrestrial needs if it proves successful. While on Thursday, Musk proposed the robot could fix cars and get your groceries, Musk also wants to send uncrewed cargo ships to Mars to bring what future Red Planet colonists will need to survive. (Yes, according to Musk, the future is a world where robots may be the reason we move to Mars and what will set up life on Mars.)
And while Musk never mentioned Mars City during his presentation, NASA is already training Boston Dynamics robots to be outer space explorers. In the Musk expanded universe, there’s a number of places where a Tesla Bot could fit.
“I think in the future,” Musk said, “physical work will be a choice.”
What was Tesla’s AI Day about? — A.I. Day wasn’t solely about utterly reconfiguring the social relations to production.
Tesla engineers also presented on the company’s efforts to improve computer vision problems, its new in-house designed computer chip, and Dojo, Tesla’s neural network. Powered by the new chip, Dojo is designed to accelerate the rate at which the company’s autopilot driving system improves.
“Those of you who’ve seen the full self-driving beta can appreciate the rate at which the Tesla neural net is learning to drive,” Musk said. “And this is a particular application of A.I., but I think there are more applications down the road that will make sense.”
What is the purpose of the Tesla Bot?
At least one of the applications for Dojo will be the Tesla Bot, which will boast eight cameras to make use of Tesla’s autopilot system. It’s a natural evolution from four wheels to bipedalism, according to Musk.
“Tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics company because our cars are semi-sentient robots on wheels,” he said at the event. “It kind of makes sense to put that onto a humanoid form.”
That humanoid form, dancers in costume aside, will look like an off-white Abercrombie and Fitch mannequin prototype with its head dipped in black ink, at least according to preview imagery displayed during the A.I. Day event.
Tesla graphics indicate the robot will be around 5’8” tall, and weigh around 125 pounds, with the ability to walk at around 5 miles per hour and deadlift 150 pounds. And if that strikes you as fairly paltry for a robot, that’s kind of the point for the notoriously robot-squeamish Musk.
“It’s intended to be friendly,” Musk said with a chuckle, referring to the proposed Tesla Bot during the event. “You can run away from it and most likely overpower it.”
What’s next for Tesla Bots and human labor? — That you could likely avoid or defeat a homicidal Tesla Bot mano a mano may be reassuring for those with visions of the HAL 9000 or the Terminator, but even Musk admitted it’s not clear the majority of humans could unionize to thwart the broader effects of millions of Tesla Bots working as planned.
Musk wants a robot that renders physical work a choice, and he was pretty clear about what he thinks that will do to the labor market.
“The economy at its foundational level is labor — I mean capital equipment is just distilled labor,” he said. “This is why I think long term there will need to be universal basic income.”
“But not right now,” Musk added, “Because this robot doesn’t work. We need a minute.”
A minute, or many months. Musk said Tesla fans can expect to see a Tesla Bot prototype sometime in 2022.
Okay, one more look at the Telsa Bot dancer.