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Tesla’s AI Day is tonight. It may wow you — or end with a gaffe

<i>From Tesla</i><br/>On September 30
From Tesla
On September 30

By Matt McFarland, CNN Business

Tesla will hold its second annual AI Day in Palo Alto, California, Friday evening. The six-hour event will include updates on Tesla’s work in artificial intelligence, “Full Self-Driving,” its supercomputer “Dojo” and maybe a humanoid robot, according to invitations posted online by Tesla supporters. The event is expected to be live-streamed.

Dojo is a supercomputer being designed to train AI systems to complete complex tasks like Tesla’s driver-assistance systems Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving,” which sometimes perform some driving tasks like steering and keeping up with traffic. Tesla’s previous AI Day included detailed technical explanations of the company’s work in a bid to attract leading engineers.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has claimed before that in the long run people will think of Tesla as an AI company, rather than a car company or energy company. He has said that Tesla AI may play a role in computers matching general human abilities, a huge milestone many experts say is decades away and perhaps unattainable. Musk, who has a long history of predictions, has said it may be reached in 2029.

But more limited and easier to develop forms of artificial intelligence — like identifying emergency vehicles stopped on a highway — have proven to be a significant hurdle for the company as it pursues its dreams of self-driving cars. AI powers “Full Self-Driving,” but the system has faced criticism and backlash as it still requires driver intervention to prevent collisions and Musk’s deadlines for its capabilities slip year after year.

And this summer Tesla’s director of artificial intelligence, Andrej Karpathy, exited the company, several months after it was announced he was taking a sabbatical.

It’s not easy to predict what may or may not show up at any event helmed by Musk. Products heralded and talked about sometimes don’t perform as designed — like when Musk showed off the Tesla Cybertruck’s supposedly “unbreakable” windows, that promptly broke — and can’t even be bought years later. (Three years after the event Tesla sells a T-shirt that memorializes the broken window, but it has yet to sell a Cybertruck.)

Musk has unquestionably disrupted entire industries with his work at Tesla and SpaceX. But he’s also earned a reputation for missing deadlines and overpromising.

Last year‘s AI Day “surprise,” for instance, was a Tesla “robot,” which was just a human dancing in a suit.

Musk then claimed that the automaker is building a 5-foot-8, 125-pound humanoid robot, called Optimus or Tesla Bot and a prototype would likely be unveiled this year. It’s unclear if a prototype will be revealed Friday, but Musk tweeted Thursday that the event would include “cool hardware demos.”

Tesla is also working on wheeled robots for manufacturing and autonomous logistics, according to a Tesla job posting for a senior humanoid mechatronics robotics architect.

Musk claimed last year that the humanoid robot would have a profound impact on the economy. It would begin by working on boring, repetitive and dangerous tasks, he said.

Tesla and Musk are not, of course, the first to bet on robots. Robots already handle many factory jobs, and companies like Boston Dynamics have worked for years to develop humanoid, animal-like, and other robots for industrial applications.

Humanoid robots have long fascinated the public and earned a place in pop culture as powerful but sometimes dangerous. Tesla tapped into this when it posted on Instagram in a promotion for the event that, “if you can run faster than 5 mph, you’ll be fine.” The Tesla humanoid robot is planned to have a top speed of 5 mph, the automaker has said.

But creating a humanoid robot that rivals a human’s abilities has proved incredibly difficult for robotics experts. Artificial intelligence has seen major advances yet trails the general abilities of a human toddler. Most robots in use today are restricted to simple tasks in basic environments like vacuuming a home or moving parts in a factory.

Tesla would not be the first automaker to build a humanoid robot, either. Honda worked on a series of robots, known as Asimo, for nearly 20 years. The Japanese company shut down development of Asimo in 2018. Korean automaker Hyundai bought Boston Dynamics in 2020.

Musk said Thursday that AI Day would be “highly technical” as it is meant for recruiting engineers to work on artificial intelligence, robotics and computer chips.

“Engineers who understand what problems need to be solved will like what they see,” Musk tweeted Friday.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

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