Tesla revealed the first stage of its future robotic plans near the end of its AI Day presentation, making it clear that the Tesla Bot will not be triggering the robot apocalypse. While it sounds like a joke, there is serious debate around this topic with some expressing concern about technology, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence and robotics. Given the limited details and early stages of Tesla’s humanoid robot, a threat to humanity from robotic overlords likely won’t be happening any time soon.
Fears of the machines taking over and stories of a robot apocalypse are pervasive in modern culture, yet there haven’t been any signs of robotic intelligence beyond advanced task solving. There is the potential danger posed by a malfunctioning or erroneous artificial intelligence (AI). If the full self-driving capability that is active in some of Tesla’s cars makes a mistake, any resulting collisions would ultimately be the fault of human drivers, since Tesla advises that it is a driver-assist, not a replacement. Injuries from industrial robots have occurred, however, those are usually accidental, coming from a human occupying a space that the machine is working within. For the foreseeable future, robots will not be planning to overthrow their makers.
Tesla’s humanoid robot, revealed during the company’s AI Day livestream on YouTube, has a code name of Optimus Subprime, which may make sense within the context of its limitations. The Tesla Bot is meant to be slower and weaker than a human. Grip strength is planned to be sufficient to hold a tool and strong enough to carry a box, but designed in such a way that it cannot overpower a human. An example is revealed in the preliminary specifications of the machine. With a deadlift capacity of 150 pounds and a box-carrying ability of about 45 pounds, this is within human limits. Where it falls below human strength is the power when its arms are extended. In this position, lifting capacity drops to only 10 pounds. That means a robot reaching for a human, unlikely as that might seem in the near future, could be easily overpowered by almost anyone.
If a person feels a need to avoid a robot, most will be able to easily outmaneuver the Tesla Bot since the top speed is expected to be 5 miles per hour, which is equivalent to a fast walk or a jog. The plan is to avoid ever needing to flee from a robot and Tesla’s founder Elon Musk has been quite vocal about the dangers of artificial intelligence and claims Tesla wants to reach these milestones first so that they are reached safely. The idea behind Tesla’s Optimus Subprime is to aid humans and eliminate any foreseeable danger, even from the AI.
According to Musk, Tesla is building its humanoid robot to handle dangerous, repetitive, and boring jobs that humans are tasked with at the moment. In the question and answer portion of the event, someone raised the point that jobs fitting the ‘repetitive and boring’ description are low-paid jobs begging the question of how it makes sense financially to make a very advanced (and presumably expensive) robot to fill these positions. Musk didn’t challenge the statement, simply suggesting that it would be a ‘wait and see’ moment. There is a real chance that the first models will be designed for the ultra-rich, just as the first Tesla Roadster aimed for the high-end market to provide funding for the more affordable models. Tesla didn’t mention any timeline for its Tesla Bot so this is in the very early stages, making any robot apocalypse even less imminent.