After a dense presentation concerning the undeniably spectacular work Tesla is doing with AI, the corporate’s self-anointed Technoking, Elon Musk, capped the night by bringing out a dancer in a spandex swimsuit. Behold, mentioned Musk: my Tesla Bot.

The dancer within the swimsuit, he mentioned, was the mannequin for a brand new humanoid robotic Tesla will produce within the close to future. After the dubstep and applause had pale, the vaguest of briefing slides promised that the Tesla Bot will stand 5 toes, eight inches (1.7m), weigh 125 kilos (56kg), have “human-level hands,” and remove “dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks.”

Musk mentioned that constructing a human-replacement robotic — one thing no firm on the earth is near attaining — was a logical step ahead from Tesla’s work creating self-driving vehicles. “Our cars are semi-sentient robots on wheels,” he mentioned. “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.”

Even by Musk’s requirements, it was a weird and good little bit of tomfoolery: a multipurpose sideshow that trolled Tesla skeptics, fed the followers, ginned up the share value, and created some eye-catching headlines. The latter being notably essential in every week when most Tesla information has targeted on a federal investigation into a bent of the corporate’s Autopilot software program to crash into parked emergency automobiles. Neglect about all that, says Musk, simply have a look at the individual within the spandex swimsuit! Subsequent 12 months, it’ll be an actual robotic, I promise.

Do you consider him? Ought to you consider him? I received’t reply that for you, however I wish to restate the information. Elon Musk acquired up on stage final night time and promised that Tesla, an organization whose driver help software program is unable to reliably keep away from parked ambulances, would quickly construct a completely functioning humanoid robotic. Musk mentioned that the machine would be capable of observe human directions intuitively, responding appropriately to instructions like “please go to a store and get me the following groceries.” He outlined these situations after which mentioned: “Yeah, I think we can do that.” This was minutes after he’d ushered away one of the best demo of the Tesla Bot out there: a dancer in a spandex swimsuit. If nothing else, it’s a must to admire the chutzpah.

To place Musk’s claims in context, keep in mind that Boston Dynamics, an organization which makes Atlas, probably the most superior bipedal robotic on the earth, has by no means described its machines as something however R&D. Atlas, says Boston Dynamics, is solely a strategy to push the slicing fringe of robotics: it’s not even near industrial deployment. In latest movies of the machine, the corporate confirmed how troublesome constructing a bipedal robotic is and the way typically Atlas journeys and falls. It’s additionally value noting that Boston Dynamics has been engaged on Atlas and its bipedal predecessors for more than a decade. Musk thinks he can leapfrog their work in a 12 months.

Carl Berry, a lecturer in robotics engineering on the UK’s College of Central Lancashire, put issues to me in much less unsure phrases: “[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 careworn that deploying robotics and AI in manufacturing normally required making the best machine potential: not probably the most complicated.

“I’m not saying Tesla researching this stuff isn’t a good thing,” he mentioned, “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.”

I personally don’t doubt that if Musk needs to he can produce one thing that appears like a Tesla Bot in 2022. It wouldn’t be onerous to make an honest automaton — one thing on the extent of Disney’s extra superior theme park fashions, for instance. As soon as he’s acquired it to stroll out onstage he may even ship it to house, only for the headlines. But when he does, will probably be simply one other distraction. Robotics are having an enormous impact on manufacturing, little doubt about that, however there’s no must fake that machines must look human to take action.

This form of bait-and-switch is usually how Musk operates. Simply take into consideration how his plans for the Hyperloop modified over time. The know-how was introduced as a railgun-like practice system that might transfer folks from Los Angeles to San Francisco in lower than half an hour. Over time, these ambitions have shrunk till the venture morphed into The Loop: a small tunnel that you may drive a automotive by way of, if you’d like. (In any other case often known as: a tunnel.)

What the Tesla Bot stroke a chord in my memory of is Sophia: the mechanical chatbot that’s appeared on chat reveals and journal covers. Sophia depends on misdirection to idiot audiences and is a daily goal of AI specialists’ scorn. Nevertheless it additionally has a job to do. As one of many robotic’s creators, Ben Goertzel, informed me in 2017, Sophia works by priming our creativeness, encouraging us to idiot ourselves into considering the long run is nearer than the proof suggests. Within the course of, the robotic generates funding and information protection for its makers.

“If I tell people I’m using probabilistic logic to do reasoning on how best to prune the backward chaining inference trees that arise in our logic engine, they have no idea what I’m talking about,” mentioned Goertzel. “But if I show them a beautiful smiling robot face, then they get the feeling that AGI may indeed be nearby and viable.”

That feeling is what Musk needs to inculcate in his viewers, be they buyers or in any other case. His twist on the Sophia technique is that he doesn’t even want a simulacrum of a robotic to promote the dream. All he wants is a dancer in a spandex swimsuit. Now that’s innovation.

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