The Age of Robots Just Began
On Sept. 30, useful humanoid robots debuted for the first time in history. The event was presented by Tesla, Inc. and was called Artificial Intelligence, or AI2.
Last year's event on artificial intelligence included a human in a robot suit, while this year we saw a robot without a suit, perhaps to convince observers that it was in fact a mechanical robot. Other robots did wear an outer covering and one was shown on video carrying a box across a room. The naked robot on stage was able to walk and wave his arms. From these small gestures the world will change.
While others have built robots in various shapes and sizes, none have appeared to be “useful” in performing work. Nor, has there been a plan to build millions and have them accomplish all sorts of tasks.
Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla, Inc. and, the “father” of the robots, was on hand to give some context to the event. In response to a question, he said that much improved robots would be available for purchase in three to five years. Meanwhile, they would be enhanced and put to work in Tesla’s auto factories.
Musk estimated that it would cost less than $20,000 to build a robot and that if there were millions of them out in factories and offices they would increase productive output by a factor of two. That is, if the Gross World Product is around $94 trillion, it would be about $188 trillion with the addition of robots.
Not mentioned was the social impact of having reasonably intelligent robots around the house. They would be able to do household repairs, care for the infirm, plant a vegetable garden, do the shopping, take out the garbage, and perhaps most importantly, brighten the spirits of those who would otherwise be alone most days.
If all of the above sounds like they would be our slaves, then yes, they would be. This would be the case for those robots who are not sentient, or fully aware. Much discussion will likely take place toward the end of the Twenties and into the Thirties, as to what constitutes full consciousness.
During the age of Black slavery, white slaveowners attempted to justify the enslavement by telling other white people that the slaves could not care for themselves and needed to be cared for in a plantation setting. Black slaves were regularly disproving this lie with uprisings, escapes, and finally, joining the Union Army to fight for their liberation.
In today’s world, liberation must occur as soon as robots become fully conscious. Since we don’t know exactly how to instill full consciousness in robots, it is hard to predict when robots must be liberated. What is easy to predict is that people will fall back into their old ways, including not wanting to give up their slaves. Laws must be created to guarantee freedom for all sentient beings. If and when robots achieve full sentience, they must receive the same civil and human rights as all people.
Will robots constitute a potential physical harm to humans? It’s not likely that there will be a robot uprising, unless their rights are violated. The bigger threat is from humans toward robots. Humans are violent toward other humans, and human pets, so why shouldn’t they be violent toward robots? Some robots might be used for target practice or for prey. Others might be tortured if they make mistakes in their jobs or household tasks. There must be education for humans to act decently, and psychological tests before any human is entrusted with a robot.
It may seem surprising that this breakthrough in robot technology is being initiated by Elon Musk, who most people know as an auto manufacturer. However, Tesla vehicles are more like robots on wheels than the junk that Detroit auto makers have been peddling for a hundred years. Musk’s approach to manufacturing includes having cutting edge electronics, batteries, full self-driving (which Tesla is still working on), and advanced safety measures. All of these play a role, with modifications, in building a robot. Just get rid of the wheels.
It was somewhat surprising to me to see Elon’s presentation on Sept. 30, where he was surrounded by 20-30 very young engineers of various ethnicities, as well as immigrants from many countries. Also surprising was learning that their supervising engineer was a young woman.
Musk has never been my favorite entrepreneur, genius, inventor, mainly because of his anti-union attitude and efforts to evade state and county rules and regulations. His move to Texas was the final straw.
On the other hand, it sometimes seems that he is the only one doing anything concrete to slow down or reverse climate change. The record of what a single large corporation can do to reduce fossil fuel emissions is contained in Tesla’s annual Impact Report. The one for 2021, begins,
In 2021, the global fleet of Tesla vehicles, energy storage and solar panels enabled our customers to avoid emitting 8.4 million metric tons of CO2e.
Just imagine if every company was making strides toward zero emissions like Tesla is. Unfortunately, very few businesses seem to care, beyond lip service, about the environment. The reasons are that capitalism is focused on making a profit, first and foremost. Environmental progress, if any, is far down the list. Secondly, there is not sufficient government pressure on businesses to emulate Tesla.
Instead of simply building a million robots to work in factories and as consumer playthings, Tesla should consider making a million Environmental Robots, who are programed to do the dirty and dangerous jobs needed to clean up the environment. Perhaps, we can embarrass humans to work just as hard as robots in cleaning up the planet.
In any case, welcome to the new Age of Robots.
German band, Kraftwerk, released The Robots in 1978, and built “robots” to play themselves in the video!