Elon Musk was criticized last year for claiming to unveil an artificial intelligence-based robot – only to present a human dressed as such for a silly dance. On Friday, however, the project got closer to reality with a real demonstration.
The Tesla CEO unveiled a humanoid machine, known as the Optimus, at the company’s annual AI Day event this week in Palo Alto, Calif., according to the Times of London. He described it as the first step towards a “fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it”, before the robot waves to the crowd, raises its knees and walks away.
“This is literally the first time the robot has worked without a tether,” Musk told the enthusiastic audience in Silicon Valley. “The robot can actually do a lot more than what we just showed you. We just didn’t want it to fall on its face.
Footage from the unveiling revealed Optimus as an apparent salad of cables protected by shiny coverings on the outside. Musk said the prototype was a work in progress, but added that it would be mass-marketed in three to five years and tested at Tesla’s auto factories, according to the BBC.
Musk previously proclaimed AI “a fundamental existential risk to human civilization”, and he repeated on Friday that artificial intelligence “affects public safety”. He said “the government” does not yet understand this and promised “to be careful [not to] …go down the ‘Terminator’ path.
The comment was referring to filmmaker James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi thriller, which revolves around an AI system called Skynet that becomes self-aware and threatens the entirety of human civilization.
“Skynet” started trending on twitter as users nervously discussed Musk’s latest project.
The 51-year-old billionaire said “millions” of these robots will be available for less than $20,000 each by the end of the decade. He added that it would irrevocably alter what it means to be human, as an economy is defined by the number of people and their productivity – Optimus tipping the scales.
“To the point where there is no limit to [productive entities] … we don’t know what an economy means even at this point,” Musk told the crowd. “An economy becomes quasi-infinite.”
Perhaps most intriguing or disturbing of all, Musk said future versions of Optimus will be able to have “pretty natural” conversations with their owners and “can also be a bit like a friend and buddy. and spend time with you. Currently, however, the robot relies on some of the autopilot software that Tesla uses in its cars.
Musk is also currently working on a brain implant called Neuralink, which he said in 2020 could make human language obsolete in “five to 10 years”. While he’s promised a slate of fanciful projects in the past – from automated tunnel systems to colonies on Mars – Optimus appears to be actually on the move.