CRAIG BROWN: Your robot will be Elon in a minute
At a recent live-streamed event in Palo Alto, California, Elon Musk announced that his firm, Tesla, is set to construct a new breed of household robot designed to ‘eliminate dangerous, repetitive and boring tasks’ such as ‘bending over to pick something up’ or ‘shopping for food’.
The robot is to be called ‘Optimus’ but it might be better named ‘Pessimus’.
Whenever robots are involved, things tend to go belly-up.
At present, Tesla is being investigated by U.S. safety regulators after a series of accidents in which autopiloted cars crashed into police cars and a fire truck. Imagine the same sort of turmoil transferred to your living-room.
The Tesla robot is to be called ‘Optimus’ but it might be better named ‘Pessimus’.
Despite their reputation for intelligence, robots regularly get the wrong end of the stick.
You drop a few items, can’t be bothered to retrieve them, and turn to Optimus the Robot. ‘Optimus! Pick up what’s on the floor!’ you bellow.
Optimus springs into action. First he starts picking up your carpet, then he picks up your floorboards.
Mr Musk doesn’t seem to realise that when robots get involved, life becomes more difficult, and every transaction takes longer.
Whether you’re booking a railway journey or a seat at the cinema, the automated process quadruples the time involved.
In the old days, you would just go up to a counter and say: ‘Ticket, please!’ Nowadays, you are faced with a battery of questions to answer, codes and passwords to enter and buttons to press.
At our local M&S, there are no longer any humans manning the checkouts. Instead, it is fully automated. The checkout machines have no small-talk and combine bossiness with incompetence.
In recent years, machines have become self-regulating. If a machine does something wrong, you have to complain to a machine, and a machine will investigate it.
At our local M&S, there are no longer any humans manning the checkouts. Instead, it is fully automated
Recently, I went online to the Great Western Railway website to order two return tickets from London Paddington to Pershore in Worcestershire. After the usual faffing around with the various choices of times, types of cards (off-peak, super-saver, etc, etc) I put in all my credit card details, address, etc, and pressed the confirm button. Nothing seemed to happen, so, after a minute or two, I pressed the button again. Arriving at Paddington, I typed all the necessary details into a ticket machine, and out whirred not two return tickets but a cascade.
We wanted to get our money back, so we were advised to go to the ticket hall. After queuing for a while, we spoke to a real-life, human ticket seller. He said that he could do nothing about it: if we wanted to complain, we would have to do so online. The form took 20 minutes to fill in. Two weeks later, we still haven’t heard anything.
And is the act of picking something up from the floor really so irksome that it’s worth getting a robot to do it? Even if you drop two things a day, it takes only a few seconds to pick them up.
Perhaps Mr Musk is unusually butter- fingered and drops things all day, every day, here, there and everywhere. Why else would he need to invent a robot to do it for him? Hand him a cheesy nibble and a glass of wine, and — whoops! — he’ll drop them on the floor.
I’m glad I don’t live in Palo Alto. Calling round on the Musks for a drink must be a nightmare, particularly if Elon is doing the serving. By the end, the Musk living room will be strewn with broken glass, cheesy nibbles, cocktail sticks, wine, chipolatas and paper plates.
And will things get any better when we all have an Optimus robot on stand-by? I doubt it.
If Optimus is anything like Musk’s self-driving cars, it will barge into the TV, knock over a lampstand and flatten the drinks cabinet before it has managed to pick a single peanut off the floor.
Perhaps I am wrong. In 20 years’ time, there may be an Optimus in every fashionable home, adept at picking up everything that is dropped. But then their proud owners will start to feel nostalgic for those ‘repetitive and boring tasks’ they farmed out to their robots, and will worry they are not getting enough exercise.
So then, at great expense, they will have to hire a personal trainer, who will run them through a series of exercises designed to duplicate the very actions they abandoned.
‘And . . . drop! And . . . lean over! And . . . pick up! And . . . stand! And drop!’
And there, standing in the corner of the room, will be Optimus, barely suppressing a smirk.