Doesn’t really quite work, Elon

The Tesla founder and world’s second-richest person, worth $178bn, said people would easily be able to run away from the robot that would have a top speed of just 5pmh.

While promising the robot will be “friendly”, Mr Musk added: “We’re setting it such that it is at a mechanical level, a physical level, that you can run away from it – and most likely overpower it.

“Hopefully that doesn’t ever happen, but you never know. Five mph – if you can run faster than that you will be fine.”

Yes, yes, I know, it’s a little jokule to get the headlines. Musk knows how to market.

However, it doesn’t really work. As with the golem creatures in Discworld. Or, actually, what some say was the ancient human hunting technique. To walk the prey to death.

Sure, the antelope can spring off at 60 mph – or one species can. But that’s a burst. And when someone can walk, near forever, at 4 and 5 mph then it’ll, eventually, overhaul something that can do 60 in bursts then must rest. Which is, it is said at least, what humans used to do. And is also what the robot could do to us. For we can’t in fact do 5 mph forever, we must rest too. But the robot can do 5 mph forever……

Yes, OK, not forever, recharge and so on. But is the recharge longer or shorter than the necessary sit down and a nap for a human?

48 thoughts on “Doesn’t really quite work, Elon”

  1. The human edge in hunting is the capacity to sweat, and hence cool the body, while walking. Antelope, like dogs, must pant in order to avoid overheating. That forces them to stop or slow down a lot. So, the strategy to keep Elon’s robots in their place is to cover their cooling intakes with duct tape.

  2. I don’t know about walk, but a fit young human can jog all day. The problem is not tiredness, but overheating. Humans, almost uniquely, don’t.

  3. Elon has obviously never seen the Dr Who serial The Robots of Death.

    He probably doesn’t even know who Leela is.

  4. “5 mph”

    Until someone changes a setting…

    His comment is pointless except insofar that he reminding us that the truth is the polar opposite of what he says.

  5. Just give it lady parts and nerds will be queueing round the block to buy them – especially if they think it might chase them down and overpower them…

  6. His Tesla Bot launch was not accompanied by any demonstration, other than a human in a bodysuit dressed as the robot dancing wildly to techno music.

    I’m not too worried about the robot takeover.

  7. In any case, you don’t need to run faster than the robot. You just need to be able to run faster than the fat bastard next to you.

  8. Sleep. What would let it catch the human is his need to sleep.

    I was once bothered by one of those aggressive breeds of dogs while its owner struggled to hold it back and assured me that it wouldn’t hurt me. I had one of those heavy bike locks in my hand. I said that if the mutt came any nearer I’d kill it. Suddenly his strength surged and he dragged the bloody thing away, muttering about madmen.

    So: what deterrents will humans carry in the world of mini-Musks?

  9. @ dearieme
    I could manage 5 mph until the cows came home, but I can only miss one night’s sleep.
    @ PF
    Yes, all it needs is a more powerful battery

  10. “But is the recharge longer or shorter than the necessary sit down and a nap for a human? ”

    That’s an easy question to answer. Humans can recharge on the move. You only have to stop momentarily to grab something. Then eat & digest it whilst continuing. I reckon I can be fully functional for about 3 days without sleep or even rest for a moderate degree of activity. Done it enough times. Certainly walking at an average of over 5mph. And I’m hardly the fittest bloke around. At a guess I’d be 25 mile ahead of any robot reliant on charging points. Maybe double that.

  11. In David Brin’s Uplift war series he makes this exact point, that humans could (and presumably did) run down faster prey by relentless pursuit because they can sweat to lose heat.

    Maybe though the first model Musk will release will be called “The Jaevert” – that might give us a clue…

  12. The obvious question is – why?

    What market is he testing with this proposal?

    I rather suspect Jonathan may have the right idea.

    Unless it’s even more cunning (if lower volume), and it’s going to be feasible to fit them up with the deepfake stuff that means they could convincingly imitate at least the more brain-damaged “leaders” and politicians.

    Oh, wait? Does Biden whir, quietly?

  13. @PF
    ““5 mph”
    Until someone changes a setting…”
    “Yes, all it needs is a more powerful battery”

    Both presume there’s a built in potential, that’s then restrained. Why would anyone do that? A normal design, if the output power is insufficient for the load, it does the task slower. That’s how we’re designed. We run slower up hills than we do on the flat. We’re slower humping a load than unencumbered. Building in surplus capacity to anything is expensive & inefficient. Putting in a more powerful battery just burns the motors out. Unless used to extend range. In which case, makes recharging interval further apart but may make recharging times longer. The optimum battery size will be for the tasks contemplated in the design.
    Not saying he couldn’t do it. But it would conflict with his primary aim. Marketing affordable robots.

  14. Try & understand it from the perspective of an electric car. It’s range is the optimum for the technology & the tasks the design’s supposed to fulfil. Increase the range with larger batteries & you’re going to turn a 5 seater with luggage carrying capability into a two seater with none. There’s a point on the curve where putting in bigger batteries will reduce not extend range. The endpoint’s where the vehicle’s incapable of moving under its own power.

  15. It’s the reason ICE technology is so much more efficient than electric. The energy density is so much higher. You can double the range of a car by chucking some fuel cans in the back, mass less than one passenger. Sort of mass gain you’ll be hardly aware of when driving it. Range extending really only gets into that downward curve somewhere around 10x optimum. Think in terms of a van-load of cans.
    I’d say beware of diesel robots. Chug-chug, not whirr-whirr.

  16. But it would conflict with his primary aim. Marketing affordable robots.

    Methinks his primary aim is to raise investment money by talking about marketing affordable robots. With Tesla cars under pressure (chip shortage, Federal investigation), the robot should be called “squirrel”.

  17. BiS has a point

    Robot T800 is an affordable entry level killing machine.
    If the owner wishes to upgrade ( within a timeframe, assuming that it isn’t obsolete by then) to a faster stronger model, T1000, then a few dip switch changes will suffice.
    Customer “saves” money on a new robot and supplier doesn’t have to make a new one. It is how we used to sell mainframes.

  18. @Ottokring
    So you’re saying a T1000 is a restrained T800? But it may be possible to build a T800 but not a T1000.
    I find this sort of thing fascinating. The passing of opinions by people with no experience of design. And very few people have. All designs are compromises of all the consdtraints going into producing it & it functioning as intended. Some of those constraints tend to either infinity or zero in their extremes. An example. You cannot build a steel tower to space. Even given infinite steel. Even a solid steel tower. Steel is not capable of supporting its own weight. Try & you’ll end up with a spherical steel plated planet. But you still won’t get to space.
    Normally, in any opinion, there is a contsraint being regarded as open ended.

  19. Try & understand it from the perspective of an electric car.

    More useful to see it from the perspective of, say, a digital camera. The removable battery in the camera is of a size that permits normal use for a hand held device. If you need more prolonged use, you swap in another battery from your camera bag. You don’t need to hold a big battery in your hand all day and you don’t need to charge the whole camera.

    Barring maintenance, an android could work perpetually by simply walking up to a multiple battery charger occasionally.

    Indeed, if all electric cars had a standard supplementary removable battery (something maybe a bit bigger than a shoe box) then the extended-range / recharge-time issue would largely be done.

  20. @pjf
    A designer! (Or the right mentality for one)
    Our fleeing human, of course, fucks up every battery swap point he passes. Jambing a broken off branch into the mechanism should suffice. A robots not going to have the capability to clear it.
    Design. Humans are an all purpose design. To duplicate some but not all the functions a human’s capable of a robot would weigh 50 tons.

  21. No BiS, old chap. You misunderstand me. It is not a question of design, but of marketing.
    Entry level killer robot becomes one robot army in the same chassis making it affordable to most Third World dictatorships.
    But then Robot Inc salesman goes in and says “But of course if you want to play with the big boys you need our new T2000…”
    Also also, isn’t it how Ford used to ( perhaps it still does) produce its car engines ?
    And it is how the USA sells jets to the Thirld World, by not including the avionics to drop nukes ( or something) that might be standard in a NATO version, but is just a software upgrade.

  22. Our fleeing human, of course, fucks up every battery swap point he passes.

    Sorry, I posted in boring mode.

    On the silly front, we know from countless movies that it makes no difference how fast the human runs; the walking/shambling robot/mummy/zombie always closes the gap.

    To duplicate some but not all the functions a human’s capable of a robot would weigh 50 tons.

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from mundanity.

  23. A humanoid robot? Don’t need hours of running.. A minute to get some distance and find something sturdy to perform some percussive maintenance is enough.

    With the humanoid shape, it inherits our weak points, and being a robot there’s no need to be sqeamish.
    Take out a knee, proceed to elbows, puncture the battery, then pee on it. Monkey wins.
    A pile of smouldering slag doesn’t run….

  24. Just give it lady parts and nerds will be queueing round the block to buy them . . .

    If it does the cooking, the washing up, the housework, the gardening, the car washing, the beer carrying, and has a nice bod with an un-ageing pretty face that doesn’t argue and then take the house in a divorce? Hmmm . . .

  25. Interesting thought Grikath. Can that stream of piss conduct electricity from the battery to the bloke? If so, the poor old monkey might have a problem.

  26. Design parameters. Thing I currently drive will clock about 230/kph. That’s being limited by the ECU, not capability. Probably on speed, rpm, turbo boost, fuel flow. Get it down my mate’s garage we could get into the software on that. Tricky because outside the ex-factory envelope we’d be working in the dark & I don’t suppose the manufacturers would be helpful. Should be able to exceed 300 fairly easily. May be able to hit 350 without actually rebuilding anything mechanical. But, design parameters. Aerodynamics. Is it stable much past 230? Convertible so probably that’s near the limit when open. Lid on, metal top rather than ragtop. But the shape’s optimised for it folding into the boot, not best aerodynamics at that speed. Tyres. Way past their design limits. Other parameters. Manufacturers gave me a car would likely do 200k km without major mechanical problems. I’ve played around with cars getting competition performance. You end up with something has a lifetime in hours. It’s not just the engine. The gearbox can’t dissipate heat fast enough & cooks the lubricant. Bearings in the drive-chain do the same. Shock absorbers won’t take the punishment. Even the vibration frequencies are out of their design expectancies & components start breaking up.
    If you want to go that fast, you buy a Ferrari at prices & put up with all the limits of driving a Ferrari. Ever used one as a town car?
    The design parameters for a “killer robot” are not the design parameters for a marketable utility robot. Although I suppose you could hang a weapons system on one if the frame would take it. Building one “in disguise” would make you uncompetitive with anyone selling something where form fit function. Getting “that bit extra” out of a couple of functions will change the entire concept into something else, because everything in any design is interconnected.

  27. Had a 400cc motorbike once, while fixing the engine, found that it was a 600cc sleeved down to 400.
    Live and learn…

  28. @Boganboy The physics of that has been researched.. The most extensive was, I believe, on Mythbusters.. 😛

    To get zapped you need a continuous stream. Which you may accomplish when young, dashing, and after a couple of pints. And a pretty decent voltage to begin with.

    A couple of drops of urea-laced watery solution on an exposed lithium cell… Makes for a nice firestarter. And the voltage of a single cell is nowhere near what’s needed to zap you in the nadgers anyway.

  29. It’s an interesting problem. Design a robot has at least one advantage to the planet’s ultimate apex predator without making it obviously a weapon.
    Forget wheels, for a start. Humans have off-road capability. Legs! Trilateral symmetry! Three legs more efficient & agile than either 2 or 4. Nature’s never really tried that one because almost everything’s evolved via bilateral. But what happens when it gets to any watercourse wider than it can jump or deeper than it can ford? Humans are amphibious on top of everything else. They can also climb.

  30. Bloke in North Dorset

    I’m not sure about these claims of people being able to go all day at 5 MPH. Since I had to give up running I do a lot of brisk walking and I have a cross-trainer for cardio work. This morning because I went out early I wasn’t distracted and I averaged just under 15m minute miles and I reckon I could keep that up on country lanes most of the day.

    I could, and sometimes do, wind that up a bit more and get to 12 minute miles, but I don’t think I could keep that up all day. Maybe being being pursued will give me a bit of extra energy but I certainly don’t think I’d be going for much longer than a couple of hours at that pace.

    But then again, as a look round my fellow humans I feel confident I won’t be the hindmost.

  31. Grikath, to paraphrase Private Walker in Dads Army

    “What’s the robot doing during all of this?”

  32. @Bis arachnoid bodyplan. Six-legged stable base with 2 free appendages, can free up the second set in 4 legged stationary stance giving you 4 “arms” to work with with the right balancing.

    Quite a lot of the physics of locomotion can be purely mechanical, and control can be distributed using “dumb” circuitry. Also extremely power-efficient to boot.
    The front “legs” can be extremely fancy with exchangeable appendages depending on the required task.

    Wouldn’t advice to add the crushing claws and stinger tail though… 😉

  33. @Otto Probably praying to the Great Programmer to figure out a way to cheat like we can… If a robot ( or for that matter anything..) starts chasing me I stop being Polite..

    If we’re ever stupid enough to build a robot that’s smarter, stronger, and more agressive than us, we’ve lost anyway and deserve to go the way of the Dodo.

  34. Sunday Times reports another Spanish town has banned bullfighting because a bull called Feminist was killed in the ring.
    Personally, I couldn’t understand what Hemingway was getting at. Seemed pretty boring to me until one bull jumped into the first row of the stands.

    This may seem a bit O/T but robot bulls may be the way to go.

  35. @Grikath
    Very inefficient. The robot’s carrying the weight of 6 legs whilst only needing 3. Manipulators. probably three again One heavy gripper, two smaller. It’s not a “body plan” though. Each item’s designed for purpose.
    Animals have gaits because there’s a limit on processing ability. Why would you build that into a robot? The efficiency of individually controlled limbs has to be higher than the mass or energy use of the processing hardware.

  36. BiS, any terrestrial design has to “carry the weight of the legs”. Which, incidentally, is solved as a purely mechanical solution in arthropods, you may want to look it up.

    And if you want to waste (power hungry!!) processing capacity on mere locomotion, sure.. I’d prefer to use my precious (limited!) energy on Useful Stuff.. And my designs to be easily adaptable with easy maintenance.
    Matter of choice, I guess..

  37. @ BiND
    I didn’t say that everyone could keep up 5 mph – I said that my problem would be that I should eventually need to sleep which trumps the question of “can I walk fast enough”.
    I have, a few times (not many ‘cos there have rarely been reasons to push myself that much) averaged >5 mph (walking) over 50km, 50ish miles, until sunset … but I don’t classify myself as normal

  38. “any terrestrial design has to “carry the weight of the legs”.

    The important thing is minimum mass for the function required. In a mechanical system, duplicating things may not be optimum. There’s a minimum size for a lot of components. The relationship between power & mass may not be linear.

    The amount of sleep you think you need may be habituated. I very much doubt there’s much difference in our ages although I doubt I have your particular fitness. I’d never contemplate marathons or long-jumps. I prefer cars & bridges. But I’m perfectly comfortable on 4 hours sleep a night or 6 over a couple of days. It’s what I’m habituated to. Three days is about my limit for no sleep. Missing a night completely I probably do a couple of times a week on average. I thrive on it.

  39. A CO2 capture machine would be a sensational weapon – let’s say you could bring CO2 levels down to 200ppm within a few months, then all flora would have massive problems, followed by all fauna displaced by a few months.
    If you have the supplies in then you can relax and laugh as the rest of the world dies.
    Musk must be stopped – he says he wants to go net zero but any technology that allows that will surely have capability to reduce CO2 levels futher.

  40. @Bongo Musk will get a little surprise about that when he will inevitably have to repeat the closed-system habitat experiments for his Mars adventure.
    Let him try to run a hydroponics “garden” on the CO2 concentrations Established Science has deemed Right and Proper for our planet.
    Will be a bit of an eye-opener for him..

    And such a CO2 capture system already exists: It’s called “the siberian taiga in spring”. There’s purty NASA satellite stuff on the intertubes showing it in action.

  41. @Bis

    ” Legs! Trilateral symmetry! Three legs more efficient & agile than either 2 or 4. Nature’s never really tried that one because almost everything’s evolved via bilateral. ”
    You’ve forgotten about Kangaroos their tail can be considered a leg as it aids propulsion (
    There are probably other animals that also use their tails as a ‘leg’ for propulsion.

    But it seems one of the problems a Kangaroo has is it can’t walk backwards. I’m also not convinced by your argument that 3 legs would be more efficient. With 2 legs walking is effectively a matter of moving the leg before you overbalance to the side. The oscillating movement creates balance perpendicular to the direction of travel. With 4 legs if one leg is off the ground you still have sufficient stability, or you can take diagonal pairs off the ground simultaneously whilst regaining sufficient oscillating balance, or have pairs of front and back legs that can hop (controlled falling forward).

    With 3 legs I can’t see a stable sensible arrangement. If they are lined up like a 3 legged race then you’d not get any mechanical advantage – you have to move 2 legs to make any forward motion. If arranged in a triangle such as 2 front legs and one back legs then either you move the front legs together making it no better than 2 legs and with the disadvantage your 3rd leg probably has to be twice as strong, or you move them individually and again get the problem that you need to have moved 2 legs to make any progress, combined with balance being much more complicated as it would oscillate in 2 dimensions not just one.

  42. Surprised no one has mentioned the SF story “The Ruum”. A bloke is out hunting in the wilds and is followed by the Ruum . Which is an alien specimen capturing machine. It is a grey barrel that rolls along quite slowly but relentlessly and injects its captures with a killing/embalming fluid jab. Or flu jab if you want a modern update.

    Cant remember how it ends as it 50+ years since I read it via the school reading list SF anthology.

  43. @ Mr Ecks

    The bloke is eventually caught by The Ruum but the chase has left him haggard and malnourished so he falls under the Ruum’s weight criteria and it lets him go.

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