It is possible that we are in denial about this.
Recent Twitter comments have highlighted the fact that last week’s Tesla robot demonstration was somewhat disappointing. The first bot (known as Bumble C) waved and stepped gingerly on the stage and that’s about it. There’s nothing quite like changing your oil or making pancakes yet.
This presentation was called the most embarrassing by one person.
I agree. Elon Musk even announced the robot with some sarcasm. The robot will look a lot better than the previous demo, which featured a man wearing a robotic suit.
The bot reached for water in a behind-the scenes video. Musk claims the bot recognizes objects. This is contrary to Boston Dynamics bots which are pre-programmed. However, Twitter replies were skeptical.
“I would hardly call that tech,” said one commenter: Another said it all looks “dated.”
Okay, point taken. This presentation was filled almost entirely with banter and jargon. It just barely concealed any genuine innovation. “What you are seeing is semi-off-the-shelf actuators,” explained Musk with a scoff. “It wasn’t quite ready to walk but it will walk in a few weeks. We wanted to show a bot that is fairly close to what will go into production.”
At this point, Tesla staff wheeled out another bot that looked all shiny and new, but didn’t do much more than wave. “Here you are seeing Optimus with a degree of freedom,” says Musk. Here’s the full presentation:
A few people on Twitter have now echoed Musk’s comments midway through his demo. The current generation of robots can make goods without the use of an AI brain, and they are as expensive as your home. The Optimus can learn from its environment, he claims, and will run about the same price as a Nissan.
Unfortunately, AI seems to be in an unrealized state. While the potential for automated assistance is evident, the reality is not so clear. These robots might wash dishes for us someday, but it’s hard to tell when that will be.
Musk hints at “soon” but the demo doesn’t reinforce that idea. The truth is — maybe we just don’t want it to happen. The hype surrounding autonomous cars or robot assistants is perhaps better understood as either a concept, or an idea.
Once there’s an actual robot like Optimus in our homes, sweeping the floor and letting the cat out, we might not be ready for what could happen next: Insurance nightmares; actual and legitimate questions about eugenics when these bots can replace humans; an over-reliance on AI tech without any real standards or safety protocols.
And, dare to even say it — how will the U.S. government be involved?
At least with the auto industry, there’s some regulation over things like seat belts and air bags. Musk has expressed concern about AI governance.
When a company like Tesla wheels out a robot and says it could be in our homes soon, my first thought isn’t about the AI brain or the competition, and isn’t even about the cost or the feature set. It’s more about whether any of us are ready for these robots to actually exists.