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  • Robert Farago

Is Optimus Primed to Replace Humans?

Tesla's robots are heeeeeere

Back in the day, I started the Tesla Death Watch at The Truth About Cars. I saw EV’s as expensive and impractical. I completely underestimated the power of political correctness.


In a world where the MMA allows a man who identifies as a woman to crush a female opponent’s skull, people can be convinced to buy a car that’s marginally more practical than a kickstand on a Sherman tank.


Especially if Uncle Sam subsidizes both production and consumption with borrowed billions.


I did not see that one coming. I also underestimated Elon. The man whose last name evokes memories of 70’s men smearing themselves with musk deer’s caudal gland juice is worth more than Lithuania‘a gross domestic product.


The Rise of the Robots


And now Elon Musk (not shown) is about to unleash Optimus, what tesla.com calls a “general purpose, bi-pedal, autonomous humanoid robot capable of performing unsafe, repetitive or boring tasks.”


God forbid Americans raised on TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube shorts should be bored for a femtosecond. But that’s not the meat of the matter.


The official description obfuscates the fact that Tesla’s robots are designed to replace humans. Specifically, any all workers engaged in manual labor. Eliminating what our union-loving President calls “good paying blue collar jobs.”


Truth be told, the rise of the robot worker is the final nail in the manual laborer’s proverbial coffin.

Blue Collar, Black Death

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco sounded the alarm in the pre-Pandemic, pre-robot past.

The disappearance of such jobs creates unique challenges. During much of the postwar period, they formed the backbone of many local economies, providing stable, well-paid employment for several generations of workers. Their disappearance was not necessarily met by the emergence of new jobs requiring similar skills in the same geographic area. The struggles of communities in the de-industrialized Rust Belt are a conspicuous example of this process. If the opportunity for stable blue-collar employment dries up in hard-hit communities, the resulting discouragement may fray the labor force attachment of groups that held such jobs in the past, causing participation rates to decline.

“Fraying attachment to job participation” as in attaching millions of people to the government tit, destroying entire communities. That’s not the half of it. The same chart extending backwards into the 1950’s manual labor stats would show a black diamond decline.


Thank you cheap Chinese labor. Flash forward to today. AI-empowered robots are set to mop-up what remains of blue collar jobs and yes, reclaim the manual labor America off-shored to the PRC.


The Robot Revolution Is Being Televised



There’s irony – or is that revenge? – in Tesla’s dawning robot revolution.


Back in 2017, Mr. Musk pulled his car-building robots off-line and hired hundreds of employees to meet the company’s elusive production goals. "Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake,” the fertile South African immigrant admitted. “Humans are underrated."


The move unleashed a flood of “we heart humans” testimonials from manufacturers. shrm.org:

For all their promise, two decades of overblown hype and expensive false starts have clearly demonstrated that robots will not replace humans any time soon… Tom Shoupe, COO of Honda of America Manufacturing, agrees. "It is our fundamental belief that humans are the most important element of our operation," says Shoupe. While Honda uses advanced manufacturing technology, including sophisticated robotics, "we've taken the approach that we automate only where it's appropriate, where there's an efficiency issue, and then we allocate our people to something that requires more human touch. The touch, the feel, the senses of human beings can't be replaced by machines."

That was then. This is now. Check out Tesla’s Optimus Gen 2’s mad egg-passing skillz above.


What Me Worry?


The human-replacing robot thing isn’t just about Optimus’ amazing dexterity or its ability to walk like it’s Joe Biden (or that it smoked a ton of killer weed). The robot learns from experience, rather than specific programming.


It’s a generalist that learns from humans. Maybe even you.


Did you know that every Tesla ever sold sends real time video to Tesla for Optimus to munch on? The company says it doesn’t monitor or record conversations in its cars, but the capability is there.


Is that the least of our worries?


Sure, a Tesla factory robot “inadvertently left operational” mistook an employee for freshly cast aluminum parts, injury resulting. But it was a “dumb” manufacturing robot; an automated black swan. Killer robots are busy earning their stripes with the U.S. military.


The Good News


As someone raised by a drug-addicted abusive mother and an absentee father, I have no illusions about human supremacy. I see a day in the not too distant Tuesday when Tesla’s robots will eliminate loneliness and provide care for the sick and infirm.


Not to mention reducing labor costs to the point where we can stop outsourcing to slave labor for consumer goods and letting-in millions of undocumented Americans to harvest crops, mow the lawn and clean houses.


I’m also down with Tesla’s claim that its robots will perform “unsafe” tasks. Underwater welding, outer space exploration, rent collection – imagine what humans can do if they don’t have to worry about getting killed or seriously injured.


You Can’t Stop the Signal


I learned my lesson with the Tesla Death Watch and the stunning arrival of AI. Technology proceeds on the hopes, dreams and greed of its inventors, not the rational considerations of those who see future folly and potential danger.


For better and worse, Tesla’s and its competitors’ robots will change the way we live.


They will force us to confront what it means to be human. A question that has bedeviled humans throughout our entire evolution. And our individual journey from forceps to stone.

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