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At the Tesla Investor Day 2023 event on Wednesday, CEO Elon Musk unveiled his third master plan to build a sustainable energy economy. In particular, he predicts that the humanoid robot sector will be more successful economically than the self-driving car sector. Building on the goal of making his Tesla robot mass-producible and useful enough to become a “all-purpose labor saver,” he predicts they could eventually outnumber humans.
Tech giant Elon Musk at Tesla’s first investor event held at the Gigafactory in Austin, Texas, discussed efforts to boost electric vehicle production and spoke about his Optimus robotic project.
Tesla’s CEO announced plans to open a fifth plant to boost electric vehicle deliveries, just seconds after it was revealed the company had crossed the four million vehicle mark. This desire is driven by the hope for the brilliant development of the brand’s humanoid robots.
But the announcements did not reassure investors: Tesla shares fell 7% as markets opened the next day. Blame it on the lack of product updates, specifically regarding his Cybertruck, to make up for the loss of half the brand value, which is key to Musk’s fortune. So what’s next for Tesla?
Will robots save Tesla?
So, on Wednesday, Tesla talked about the rapid progress of its next-generation Optimus robot, which it wants to use in its factories. Nineteen months after its world debut, it was finally walking – slow compared to Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot, but it’s been in development for over 10 years – picking up items and performing basic tasks.
Specifically, the overview video shows the robot using opposing thumbs and hands to detach Optimus’ arm from the test bench and transport it to a workstation where another robot processes a third. With some nifty video tweaks, it looks like the first robot is holding its hand in place while the second one is fixing it.
Elon Musk said during the presentation: “I think we could go beyond the 1:1 ratio between humanoid robots and humans. It’s probably the least understood or least appreciated part of what we do at Tesla, but in the long run, it’s likely to outweigh the auto business economically.”
He adds that Tesla’s main added value lies in advanced artificial intelligence developments applied in the real world, in particular, in self-driving cars. He explains: “It’s not very useful to have a humanoid robot if you have to program every action. He must be able to move independently and perform tasks. You should be able to teach him simple things by showing him what the robot is supposed to do or just telling him what to do. This is the main advantage we will have.”
While this has yet to be demonstrated, it is certainly a departure from the research-driven and limited-scale approach to commercialization taken by Boston Dynamics. Tesla has been designing its robot for mass production from the start and useful enough to be a “one-stop labor saver.”
Of course, these types of robots must have an incredible impact on society as a whole. Indeed, if we assume that there is no limit to labor to increase production, then what is the real limit of the economy, asks Elon Musk, what will be the place of man? “Here we are still far from the Kardashev stairs, but we are moving towards this,” he said. The Kardashev scale measures the level of technological progress of a civilization based on the amount of energy it can use.
However, when asked about future generations of AI coupled with humanoid robots that could start helping Tesla in its automotive “manufacturing hell”, Elon Musk fears that even he could be out of a job once the robots are up and running…
Tesla robots are working on other robots. © Tesla
“AI is stressing me out,” he adds at the end of the presentation. Despite his friction with other authorities, especially given his recent decisions regarding Twitter, if there is one area where he seems to want to introduce a certain number of rules, it is AI so that it does not threaten humanity.
Although he has just announced the recruitment of developers to compete with ChatGPT, he is very pessimistic about the AI-related future of humanity. He points from a stage in Austin, surrounded by 16 Tesla executives, including the head of “autopilot”: “I’m a little worried about AI ‘things’. We need some kind of regulatory body or something that oversees the development of AI. Make sure it’s in the public interest.” He concludes: “This is a rather dangerous technology. I’m afraid I did something to speed it up.”
VIDEO: Introduction to Optimus’ abilities (from 1:48:20). © Tesla