By William J. Furney
Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, especially with all those mundane tasks around the house that can drive you mad and make your life feel like one big pile of misery. Long gone are the days of scrubbing your clothes on a washboard as the dutiful washing machine has taken over; all manner of kitchen appliances make preparing meals a breeze, and the dishwasher will take care of chore of washing up; and the remote control means few among us are even aware that you once had to get up off your sofa to change the TV channel.
Now comes the promise of a new household gadget to make our lives even easier and more enjoyable — freeing up so much more of our time that soon we could be wondering what to do with it.
As if spaceman-carmaker Elon Musk didn’t have enough to do, he’s also fiddling around with a humanoid robot called Optimus that he revealed to the world this week. And if the machine looks a bit, well, wiry, it’s only a glimpse of the gleaming robot to come. “There’s still a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus. It won’t be boring,” Musk told a crowd in California on Friday as the first version of Optimus walked gingerly onto the stage.
Made up of bits of Musk’s Tesla cars, the excited attendees nearly wet themselves when the bot waved during its shaky performance (perhaps stage fright), and Musk says that when the artificial creature comes to life on the market — a prospect not so long off, it seems — it will cost less than a car, retailing below $20,000.
Visionary Musk, whose ultimate life goal is to get people on Mars, via his SpaceX enterprise currently blasting folk to the International Space Station, sees his robot as a helper in the house. Why lift those heavy boxes and risk putting your back out when a machine can do it for you?
But Optimus is heralded as more than just a mundane slave; it will, vows Musk, also be a friend and companion — and possibly even a sex toy (how much more advanced than a blow-up doll). “Naturally, there will be a catgirl version of our Optimus robot,” the billionaire entrepreneur teased on Twitter.
The artificial intelligence home-helper would have inbuilt controls so it wouldn’t go berserk and try and turn its owner into its servant, or worse, said Musk. “I’m a big believer in AI safety,” he said at the unveiling.
So if you’re wondering what the next big advancement in consumer tech is likely to be, after the personal computer and smartphone, this could be it. Optimus could become just as indispensable as all the gadgets we rely on today, and even more so — and who knows if owners might fall for their robo-partners and even marry them?
Whatever happens, we’re on a trajectory where work is increasingly becoming something humans do not do, in favour of machines taking over tasks and allowing us the freedom to think and enjoy life. Robots already do a lot of the heavy lifting, from hefty ones in car and other factories to small, scooting robots in Amazon warehouses.
People having a job that they toil at for eight hours a day, five days a week, or more, could one day be seen as archaic, primitive even, as our lives instead become funded by a universal basic wage available to everyone. Money, after all, is just a concept, exchanging one thing for another, with a “promise to pay” that’s largely based on trust and that never really comes into play.
All this would be welcome news to everyone on the planet, but most especially for the estimated 698 million of us who are living in poverty. Perhaps they too, no longer having to eke out a living doing backbreaking tasks for little in monetary return might snap up their own electronic home assistant too.
If Musk is right, and he seems to have a knack for knowing what’s best for our species, personal robots may be the next big leap in how we live, play and work — or not. And thanks to Tesla and its inbuilt AI, we won’t even have to drive ourselves anywhere.
What a life.