Thoughts & Essays

Re: Musk’s Teslabot

I have… many questions.

🔗 The Verge: Don’t overthink it: Elon Musk’s Tesla Bot is a joke

Musk said that building a human-replacement robot — something no company in the world is close to achieving — was a logical step forward from Tesla’s work developing self-driving cars. “Our cars are semi-sentient robots on wheels,” he said. “It kind of makes sense to put that on to a humanoid form. We’re also quite good at sensors and batteries and actuators so we think we’ll probably have a prototype some time next year that basically looks like this.”

I think the first one is “WHY.” Seriously, why? Why do you need a human-shaped robot for “repetitive, boring tasks”? We have robots for stuff like that, they work just fine while not being human-shaped. In fact, a lot of them work better because they aren’t human shaped.

Musk says, “Our cars are semi-sentient robots on wheels,” which, no. Robots, maybe. Semi-sentient, no. Not even fancy Tesla cars.

Also, I do not want a sentient anything that we built to be used for “boring, repetitive tasks.” If it is sentient, then we cannot force it to do anything it doesn’t want to do. That would be slavery.

Like, I guess, what’s the market for this? What would this be used for? Factory work? We have robots for that, they don’t need to be very smart, let alone whatever Musk thinks “sentient” is.

Does he think people will buy these to use at home? Like, to clean house or fold laundry or something? Why would I do that? If I can afford a robot, I can afford to hire a house cleaner.

I’m just super confused about the actual utility of something like this to basically anyone. I’m sure people will absolutely just buy one because they’re “cool” or whatever, but… what would your average person do with one of these?

I am really struggling to figure out what real-world problem these address. Help the elderly, I dunno, carry groceries in from the car? But again, if you can afford a robot, wouldn’t it just be easier/cheaper to hire a person?

Seriously. If you had enough disposable income that you could spend it on a robot, which is def not gonna be cheap, then what would you need a human-shaped robot for that you couldn’t just hire a person for?

Most of the things we can currently automate are automated with dumb, non-human-shaped robots. Why would a human-shaped dumb robot be better? What can we automate with a human-shaped bot that we can’t already automate?

If you build a human-shaped bot that’s smart enough to do complex tasks, then you start running into all the weird, glitchy behaviors you get from any “smart” object. And who wants to deal with a big-ass glitchy bot shredding your laundry?

If you build an any-shaped robot that’s smart enough to qualify as “semi-sentient,” then you start running into real ethical questions. Fuck, you guys, I don’t need to be stressing out about if I’m committing a slavery just because I bought the latest Tesla widget. Shit, I’m stressed out enough about that damn “talking” dog with the word buttons on Tik Tok. I don’t need to be worrying about my gadgets, too.

I understand that the Tesla bot is obvious bullshit. I’m just baffled at how much bullshit it is, on so many levels, I guess.

To put Musk’s claims in context, remember that Boston Dynamics, a company which makes Atlas, the most advanced bipedal robot in the world, has never described its machines as anything but R&D. Atlas, says Boston Dynamics, is simply a way to push the cutting edge of robotics: it’s not even close to commercial deployment. In recent videos of the machine, the company showed how difficult building a bipedal robot is and how often Atlas trips and falls. It’s also worth noting that Boston Dynamics has been working on Atlas and its bipedal predecessors for more than a decade. Musk thinks he can leapfrog their work in a year.

Carl Berry, a lecturer in robotics engineering at the UK’s University of Central Lancashire, put things to me in less uncertain terms: “[Calling it] horse shit sounds generous, frankly. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be doing research like this, but it’s the usual overblown hype.” Berry stressed that deploying robotics and AI in manufacturing usually required making the simplest machine possible: not the most complex.

“I’m not saying Tesla researching this stuff isn’t a good thing,” he said, “but between them and companies like Boston Dynamics they leave the public with unrealistic expectations of what robotics is currently capable of or will be for many years.”