Yesterday was Elon Musk’s “AI Day”, and I don’t know whether to say it was a letdown, or that it was exactly what I expected.
The Optimus robot was not ready for prime time. Its motors worked: the curtains were pulled back, it took a few steps, it waved mechanically, it turned around, done. It did not interact with anything or anyone. It did not have to deal with any novel situations. It did not exhibit any behaviors beyond what you might get out of a Disney animatronic.
— Tesla (@Tesla) October 1, 2022
I’ve seen more impressive animated mannequins in the Christmas window displays at ZCMI in Salt Lake 25 years ago. Come on, guy, show me something that requires intelligence and flexibility on the robot’s part.
I guess I can call myself an artificial intelligence researcher now. When I was 13, a friend and I built a Frankenstein’s monster in my bed, which could sit up (with the aid of strings we pulled) and roar horribly (tape recorder in its chest) and best of all, spurt red blood when I pushed a button on a pump. We invited my siblings to witness our creation in a brief little skit and then chased them out of the room as the monster rose up.
Oh, what I could have accomplished with a bunch of actuator motors, some shiny strings of blinking lights, and a Raspberry Pi.
Musk also showed some videos of Optimus picking up boxes and of using a watering can to water some office plants. Very short videos. Again, nothing that demonstrated any artificial intelligence capabilities at all. He brought out a second robot that waved at the audience, and it wouldn’t be a Musk demo without some embarrassing gaffe.
How many engineers does it take to push a high school robotics project? pic.twitter.com/MUw6v46Lb6
— Krombopulos Michael (@kr0mb0pul0smike) October 1, 2022
Yet he was promising that a home robot would be available in a few years, that they were going to mass produce millions of them, and that they’d cost around $20K each.
Musk himself is a terrible showman. He mumbled and “ummm”ed his way through a poorly practiced, short speech that had no pizzaz — he relies on overpromising rather than actually expressing some genuine enthusiasm. He’s no Steve Jobs, who could get up and announce “one more thing” that was an overpriced watch and get people rushing to spend a thousand dollars on it. I’ve been coaching undergrads in making scientific presentations for the past few weeks, and they’ve been so much better than Musk — spontaneous, smooth, well-organized, and demonstrating some genuine passion for their projects. They actually rehearse what they’re going to say and are careful about being accurate. I’d suggest that maybe Elon Musk would do better to hire some UMM students fresh out of graduation, except that I hope to Dog that none of them ever end up in a job that requires them to go through the motions of empty hype and lie with more enthusiasm than their over-valued billionaire boss.