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Tesla Cybertruck
Fair use case via Wikipedia: From promo material)

What Can the Cybertruck Tell Us About Silicon Valley?

Does Elon Musk’s view of human beings help account for his new truck’s massive armor?

Last Thursday, Tesla CEO, Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s latest innovation, the Cybertruck (Or, as he prefers to say, CYBRTRCK.) Tesla already has— if Musk’s cryptic tweet embedded below is correct—at least 200,000 preorders (though the fact that only $100 down payment is required means that enthusiasm is not very expensive):

200k— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 25, 2019

Musk’s latest vehicle of the future certainly looks like no other truck. Inspiration for the design came, in part, from the 1980s dystopian movie, Bladerunner. But after the reveal, Musk divulged the practical reasons for the truck’s science-fiction looks. Unlike most trucks, which wrap stamped sheet metal around a ridged frame, Tesla’s truck uses an exoskeleton made from “ultra-hard 30X steel” which would break a stamping press (even bending the truck’s steel requires scoring the inside). In short, Tesla’s choice of materials all but forced the company into the planar truck design.

Here’s a competitive model that Amazon is working on:

But why did Tesla choose those materials, including the (apparently breakable) unbreakable “Tesla armor glass”? Musk and Tesla picked their materials not for aesthetics or cost but for their strength. Musk claims that the truck is “literally bulletproof,” even calling it an armoured personal carrier from the future.”

Pardon me but, while I know that a good truck needs to be tough, I never thought it needed to be a Mad Max-styled warrior vehicle. Apparently, Musk does.

Could this factor play a role? Musk has strong views about humans and they’re not favorable. Last August, he claimed the gap between humans and AI is comparable to that between humans and chimps:

In a conversation with Alibaba CEO Jack Ma at the World AI Conference in Shanghai, China, Musk explained the evolutionary step that AI represents: “Can a chimpanzee really understand humans? Not really. We just seem like strange aliens. They mostly just care about other chimpanzees. And this will be how it is, more or less.”

Ben GIlbert, “Elon Musk says the difference between human intellect and AI is comparable to the difference between chimpanzees and humans” at Business Insider

Musk has even called humans a “biological boot loader” for AI (a boot loader is a simple program that helps more complex programs boot up). A couple of years ago, he (along with other tech billionaires) proposed a universal basic income to offset the coming jobless future he believes AI advances will inevitably bring. Historically, as Jay Richards points out, that has never happened before. Technical advances change the nature of work without eliminating it.

But if you believe, as Musk appears to, that a coming onslaught of incomprehensible AI will push most humans into a jobless dustbin, supported only by the gracious handouts of the billionaire (trillionaire?) class, then you might also worry about open revolt and feel the need for an “armored personal carrier.”

This, then, is the line that divides: Are humans mere biological accidents to be ultimately surpassed by their tools and toys? Or is there more to humans than many (most?) AI advocates care to see?

Over the last week or so, we’ve learned that robots have failed to make pizza and build airplanes. Supposedly advanced AI can be deceived and its creativity is at best cringeworthy. A calm, data-driven analysis simply does not support Musk’s fears.

Among our wide-ranging abilities is our, at times, wild imagination. Left to novels and movies, it’s all fun and games. But, when unfettered billionaires start believing the fantasies, you get the Cybertruck and the pitch to colonize Mars.

We need to look past the fantasy. AI is a tool created by humans that reflects and amplifies us, shortcomings and all. We can misuse and abuse AI, like any tool, such that people get hurt. We can prevent that harm by treating AI as we would any other tool: By requiring appropriate guidelines, safety measures, and effectiveness evaluations.

So, in my view, what we need is not an “armored personal carrier from the future” but a respect for and admiration of humans, all of them. Even, maybe especially, those who do not work in Silicon Valley.

Jonathan Bartlett has also offered some thoughts on Tesla’s new triangle truck:

Tesla’s Cybertruck runs on… hype? Jonathan Bartlett; When planning for the future, Tesla should maybe think reality, not Mad Max. The steel ball thrown at the unbreakable window broke the glass. Twice. Unfortunately, Musk had to spend the rest of the demo with a damaged car in the background.

Here’s Brendan Dixon on why the Zume pizza robots got the pink slip: The doughbots’ pizza appealed to everybody but the customer.

Also, from the odd world of Apes r’ us: Researchers: Apes are just like us! And we’re not doing the right things to make them start behaving that way… Unfortunately, these programs, now rare, were not much fun for chimpanzees.


Jay Richards on why technical advances do not—in themselves—lead to loss of jobs: At the time of the American revolution, he reminded the audience, 95% of the population lived and worked on farms because they had to. Today, about 1 percent do. “So does that mean that 94% of the population is unemployed? Of course not!” He agrees that there will be displacement and disruption as mechanization gives us resources to create new and different jobs: “Anything that can get automated will get automated. That’s a really good rule of thumb.” Creative freedom, he argues, can’t be automated.

Brendan Dixon

Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Brendan Dixon is a Software Architect with experience designing, creating, and managing projects of all sizes. His first foray into Artificial Intelligence was in the 1980s when he built an Expert System to assist in the diagnosis of software problems at IBM. Since then, he’s worked both as a Principal Engineer and Development Manager for industry leaders, such as Microsoft and Amazon, and numerous start-ups. While he spent most of that time other types of software, he’s remained engaged and interested in Artificial Intelligence.

What Can the Cybertruck Tell Us About Silicon Valley?