Tesla is developing a robot called Optimus, it will be a humanoid, biped, walking with arms. It is a big challenge as walking has been a notorious problem for many robot projects (which has been solved by Boston Dynamics), and manual dexterity is another. Tesla is still working with ‘statistical’ deep learning/transformer networks, and is only optimzing a few vectors (or one really) for its cars. A body needs many.
Elon Musks fear of AI is fair, it is becoming real easy to make machines perform tasks once reserved for humans. A board of $20 can recognize voices and objects, even has a camera. This can be used for good, but also for evil. You can with some hacking build a gun that can shoot specific targets, even a specific person from a distance. Who will get convicted for that crime? Real ‘autonomous’ AI today can only exist in the sky. Autonomous is between quotes because such device will have a ‘preference’ build in. But it is totally concievable to have it scan the ground for objects like guns mounted on cars, and destroy them without intervention.
We can go into a lot of AI risks here but it may be more interesting to expand om Elon’s insight during his ’21 Q4 Earnings call, where he wondered what the economy even means if there is no shortage of labour (which is possible if you have a general purpose android). I have written about this world often on this blog, and named it the Roboeconomy, in short the Roboeconomy is a world in which robots are powered by renewables (and AI is assumed to have progressed). I said this Roboeconomy is where humanity is heading, and it is completely different from the current fossil credit economy.
The question that shows the difference that I asked in my post on the Roboeconomy of 2011 is:
“If we had a machine that made everything we needed,
would we all be jobless and unable to afford anything,
or would everything be free?”
The basic difference between the current and the roboeconomy is that nobody owns the energy you use, so whatever you produce with it, you don’t need to share it with anyone. Of course if you don’t share others may have nothing. Does that mean others starve or do you still share because it you who owns the energy source and produced it do not experience any loss in doing so?
In the fossil credit economy most money ends up with either energy companies or banks, both have no real use for the money
In the fossil economy we always pay for things because there are first owners of the energy we use. Fossil companies and banks own the energy and the money we use to allocate it first, then we borrow it and consume the energy. This ties us into the ‘economy’ which maximizes the power and control of banks and fossil companies. We have to go back to the gas station and find new money to buy fuel. We are forced to live in expensive homes we have to pay a ‘mortgage’ on, which also forces us to go out and find/make money. Our environment is a desert because we can’t just find what we need in it (energy and money), we have to haggle with others for it. It is this dependency that is carefully maintained and protected by our banks, who also push right wing un empathic politics. They create the fossil economic machine that is destroying our environment and climate.
If the energy is renewable we are free, we can be located in the middle of nowhere as long as we have the technology to make what we need with the energy we harvest we are good. It was clear that AI and chip technology was going to make it easier to do that. 3D printing, maker bots, deep learning development where going to allow us to eventually make almost everything anywhere. It would take human ingenuity at first, but AI aided physics modelling and CAD systems would help and eventually you would practically end up with machines that can make anything we need in any quantity we want.
Elon has been able to bring about the environment and actions that are getting us so close to this reality, where I personally did not advance beyond thinking about it, tinkering with electronics and tiny robots at home. But the significance of this push with respect to the climate crisis can not be underestimated. This is what I wrote about before : The climate crisis can not be solved within the present economy, it has to be solved with renewables because fossil fuels would be a limiting factor and above that add CO2.
What we need to solve the crisis is a lot of manipulation of our planet and a lot of activity in places where nobody lives or wants or can live at the moment. High level AI driven robots are a solution to that challenge, and robots on renewables are an obvious requirement. With those two factors you can repair the planet’s eco system, fight problems where they occur, do so much that weak organic people can not or do not want to do.
If Tesla manages to build an Optimus robot that can assemble itself, that can organize the gathering of resources needed for its creation itself, that can process those raw materials to get the parts and components to create itself itself, the world can feel relieved because it could secure parts of the economy using the AI, and not have fallible people chase after things.
It would also possibly have to deal with the freedom of these AIs, with their desires and needs, as these AIs would have to have drives other than servitude to a master. I wrote about this (some posts are missing, the last 7 years due to a WP update). The risk of a freely roaming android to humans can be protected by giving it a detailed sense of what humans are. We could also give them a detailed sense of what Earth is (for which I suggested to build an ‘Earth simulator’ that can also be used to see effects of climate action). Of course basic ‘do not touch’ rules and auditory sensitivity (for calls of distress) would be good ‘demotivators’ of intentions.
It is exciting to think about robots restoring the ecology, as it is to think about a robot you can send on an errant. The fluidity will depend on the computational capacity that these androids can carry, humans basically always want to do everything, but our environment usually only allows us to do what we can safely or decently do. It seems the Tesla cars have to filter the situation they see and select abilities for specific situations in a more exclusive manner, but they can in principle switch much more often than humans (we are stuck with 100 ms at least and longer for realities we did not expect at all). We can probably do a lot already with way less capable AIs and control systems.
It seems logical for Elon to go after productivity enhancing versions of the android first, then after the humanoid aspect and then after the Generalized AI aspect. The bots will take jobs away, but make production cheaper, and this is where the conondrum of the Roboeconomy becomes important to answer. I have suggested that if such reality comes about, the people do not need jobs, but they are not starving for lack of income because the receive a basic income. Because they just allocate energy to the producers of the products they like, and the energy is free because it is renewables, people can enjoy a free life as if they are living in a garden of Eden.
Wealth is a function of Energy, Raw materials and Skills, money is not a factor!
We forget our media really needs to capture our attention in order to teach us we need to buy products and live a certain lifestyle. The constant reminder of the existence of shiny people in huge shiny mansions with white teath, fair skin, lush hair, cozy families and interiors, is not to make us happy, but to make us consume fossil fuels and generate cashflow for banks. They world without those forces also has different people in them, people that are more content with less, that are free to travel and do good, people not stuck in horrible jobs. Once we can escape the fossil credit economy, we will not know why we ever accepted it.