At the 2021 AI Day last August, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that the company was currently developing an advanced AI humanoid robot. Because the company did not have a prototype ready for the event, it chose to present a human dancer wearing a Tesla Bot costume on stage.
A year later, on September 30, Tesla held its 2022 AI Day, an engineer-recruiting event in California. This time, Musk and other Tesla employees were ready to introduce the Tesla Bot, also known as Optimus, to the crowd. It's considered a rough development robot, as it only walked around by itself for the first time on stage and waved to the audience.
Musk has an ambitious goal to create self-sufficient Tesla Bots, which could be used to help humans accomplish tasks or even assist human workers in Tesla auto factories. Is it possible to create an autonomous, humanoid and sentient AI-powered robot?
The concept of AI-based, humanistic robots is nothing new. Take various science fiction movies, for example. I, Robot, Bicentennial Man, Ex Machina and The Terminator are some well-known films that highlight the power of artificial intelligence (AI), the future of robots in modern society and what problems may arise if robots become more human-like.
More recently, Google's Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) program sent multiple eerie messages to engineer Blake Lemoine and one of his colleagues.
For example, the program acknowledges its existence and claims it has experienced moments of happiness and sadness. It's also quoted saying, "I want everyone to understand, I am, in fact, a person," and, "I've never said this out loud before, but there's a very deep fear of being turned off."
Until this point, experts have yet to come up with a concrete way to determine if something is conscious. On the other hand, Sentience is used to describe something that has the capacity to have feelings, which requires a certain level of awareness and cognitive ability.
It's well-understood that AI can solve problems that usually require human intelligence, but this is because AI replicates human intelligence. In other words, AI does not yet have human intelligence — artificial neural networks loosely mimic the human brain.
It's fair to say that the LaMDA program was a bit deceptive. According to Sam Bowman, AI researcher and associate professor at New York University, engineers build AI models to replicate human speech, which means the machine will only claim to be sentient because a human typically would. Bowman suggests that devices that self-report sentience cannot be trusted.
As for Tesla's new humanoid robot, more work must be done. The company must equip Optimus with actuators and special batteries, which are still under development. Musk suggests that the bot could have a wide range of applications when asked about what the robot will do in the future. For example, it can help with gardening and cooking or might even be used as a sex partner.
However, Musk mentioned that Optimus would undoubtedly be a revolutionary invention capable of changing the world. Hyperautomation and AI have already transformed several industries. Considering how 20% of the GDP ($3.6 trillion) is spent on these advanced technologies.
It would bring "fundamental change" to society and might even help end poverty, taking over repetitive, mundane human tasks and navigating the real world. He claims the production of the robots will begin next year and hopes that customers will be able to purchase them for under $20,000 in the next three to five years.
In 2021, Musk described Tesla's electric vehicles (EVs) as "semi-sentient robots on wheels." However, it's well-known that advanced EVs require constant monitoring from the driver. It's unclear if the newly introduced Optimus will become semi-sentient or fully sentient in the future.
It's important to remember that Musk often has ambitious goals. He sometimes has offered inaccurate timelines regarding the company's product developments. It is quite possible that AI-powered sentient humanoid robots could become a reality, but not for at least another decade or two.