On August 20th Tesla had their AI day event. They spent most of the time talking about their full self-driving technology in the new dojo supercomputer. But perhaps the most exciting announcement from the event was the new tesla bot which they plan to have a working prototype of by next year. Code named Optimus the tesla bot will be a fully autonomous humanoid robot that can perform dangerous and repetitive tasks. If they are successful in their development then it’s hard to overstate how massive this could be not just for tesla but for the entire global economy.
There are many jobs that require workers to enter dangerous areas at high risk of injury. In 2019 there were over 5 000 work-related deaths in the USA alone. Common causes of death include transportation incidents, injuries caused by other persons or animals contact with objects, exposure to harmful substances and fires and explosions but
these statistics actually understate the magnitude of workplace safety issues.
Many economic activities that otherwise would be profitable are foregone because they involve serious risk of injury to workers and thus large legal liabilities for the companies. The tesla bot can potentially solve these problems and make previously unviable endeavours possible.
The most obvious area of opportunity is space exploration Elon Musk’s other company SpaceX plans to send its first uncrewed mission to mars by 2024. it’s possible that the first beings on mars will not be humans but instead be sentient AI tesla bots. They can build the infrastructure to support human life before the first people arrive.
Elon Musk during the unveiling of the robot said, “If you think about what we’re doing right now with the cars tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics company because our cars are like semi-sentient robots on wheels and with the full self-driving computer essentially the inference engine on the car which will keep evolving obviously and Dojo and all the neural nets recognizing the world understanding how to navigate through the world it kind of makes sense to put that onto a humanoid form.”
At this point, Tesla is not just a car company but an artificial technology and robotics company. With full self-driving, a tesla car is basically a sentient being that can replicate and even exceed the intelligence of a human driver. They collect billions of miles of the world driving data and process it on neural networks to make the autonomous driving system more and more intelligent.
This process will be expedited with the introduction of their cutting edge dojo supercomputer. It is called a dojo because its function is to train their ai models. They will use the technology that they have already developed with their full self-driving system to power the brain of the robot similar to tesla cars. It will have cameras that allow it to gain situational awareness and react to its surroundings.
Other companies have tried to develop humanoid robots and many have succeeded in developing the hardware. But this is the easy part, the hard part is building the artificial intelligence to make the robot sentient and able to perform tasks at the same level of dexterity as a human.
For example, it was considered a breakthrough when the control robotics intelligence group was able to put together an Ikea chair in 20 minutes but this was not autonomous. Engineers had to hard code very specific instructions for the task at hand. This means it has limited use in the real workplace but the tesla bot will be on a whole different level.
I mean thing is that it’s really difficult to make a useful humanoid robot that doesn’t need explicit line by line instructions to navigate through the world. can you talk to it and say please pick up that bolt and attach it to the car with that wrench and it should be able to do that it should be able to go to the store and get me the following groceries that kind of thing.
Instead of having engineering program-specific tasks, the tesla bot will be smart enough where it can just do whatever you tell it to do verbally. Just like how a manager gives instructions to a human employee. This will make the robot extremely versatile and able to take the place of humans for pretty much any repetitive task.
This will not be an easy feat to accomplish but if anyone can do it it’s tesla. They already have the AI technology to power the brain of a robot by expanding into humanoid robots they achieve economies of scale by utilizing their existing technology to new uses to understand how valuable the robot can be.
Let’s do a simple calculation a skilled blue-collar worker such as a welder may make up to 25 dollars per hour. There are also other employment expenses including payroll taxes employer-sponsored healthcare workers compensation liabilities and other expenses. Adding all of these up together could get a grand total cost of 35 dollars an hour.
Let’s say the tesla bot has a useful life of 5 years which seems pretty conservative. The robot will need some time to charge or undergo maintenance checks but will be able to work much longer hours than a Human, If it can work 18 hours a day for 7 days a week its useful life will be almost 33000 hours total at 5 dollars per hour this is one point one five million dollars worth.
If they can sell the robot for two or three hundred thousand dollars this might sound like a lot but it’ll be a no-brainer for manufacturing companies to buy.
The sentient robot will have profound effects on employment and what it means to be human in Musk’s words “this I think will be quite profound because if you say like what is the economy it is at the foundation it is labour. So what happens when there is no shortage of labour. That’s why I think long-term that there will need to be universal basic income, yeah. But I think essentially in the future physical work will be a choice if you want to do it you can, but you won’t need to do it. And I think it obviously has profound implications for the economy because given that the economy at its foundational level is labour.”
The widespread adoption of the tesla bot could bring the world into a post-scarcity economy. For all of human history, people in the economy have competed for a scarce supply of resources, there are only a limited number of clothes at the shopping mall. The proportion of goods you can consume is determined by how much you can produce and how much money you earn. But once robots are doing all the work there’s no fundamental limit to what the economy can produce.
To produce more output you just need to invest in more robots, of course, there will still need to be some on-site engineers to oversee the robots instead of the production lines. But this will be a tiny fraction of the current level of manufacturing employment with robots being able to produce. An almost unlimited supply of goods. There will be virtually no limit on what people in the society can consume and no more need for humans to perform physical labour.
This will both enable and necessitate a universal basic income. In the post-scarcity economy, there will be enough resources to give money to every citizen such that they can live dignified lives even if they don’t work. This isn’t a political video and many people do think that a universal basic income will cause people to be lazy and just watch movies all day.
But if robots take all the jobs they wouldn’t be working regular jobs anyway. If people don’t have to worry about putting food on the table they’ll be free to try creative endeavours which have a high risk of failure but tremendous upside opportunities instead of working at factories people can create content develop new apps and games or become artists.
The possibilities are endless this will cause an explosion of creativity and massively accelerate innovation. But perhaps the biggest opportunity with a tesla robot is its ability to perform tasks too dangerous for humans.
The most obvious use case is SpaceX’s planned colonization of mars. The red planet’s surface is very extreme it has an average temperature of minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit and almost no oxygen. These conditions make it very difficult for human astronauts to survive there for an extended period of time. The tesla robot will not require oxygen and have a much greater ability to survive these extreme conditions perhaps even more importantly the payload a SpaceX rocket can carry is limited.
A human might weigh 200 pounds but they still also require hundreds of pounds worth of food water and other supplies to survive an extended mission. The tesla robot will weigh just 125 pounds and they can be packed tightly together a mission that could take five humans to Mars may be able to take 30 or 40 robots instead, The robots could use solar energy to recharge and spend years building a colony with greenhouses and other amenities to eventually support human habitation.
Of course, the first tesla needs to deliver on their proposed technology. Musk is targeting a working prototype to be ready by sometime next year. It will likely take a few years before they are ready for widespread adoption throughout the economy. The robots will probably first be used internally in tesla factories where they are already leaders in automation. After tesla is able to prove the robots as reliability they could be sold to other companies.