“I think we might exceed a one-to-one ratio of humanoid robots to humans,” Elon Musk declared on March 1st. Coming from the self-styled technoking of Tesla, it was not so much a prediction as a promise. Mr Musk’s car company is developing one such artificially intelligent automaton, codenamed Optimus, for use at home and in the factory. His remarks, made during Tesla’s investor day, were accompanied by a video of Optimus walking around apparently unassisted.
Given that Mr Musk did not elaborate how—or when—you get from a promotional clip to an army of more than 8bn robots, this might all smack of science-fiction. But he has waded into a very real debate about the future of work. For certain forms of AI-enabled automation are fast becoming science fact. Since November ChatGPT, an AI conversationalist, has dazzled users with its passable impression of a human interlocutor. Other “generative” AIs have been conjuring up similarly human-like texts, images and sounds by analysing reams of data on the internet. Last month the boss of IBM, a computing giant, forecast that AI will do away with much white-collar clerical work. On March 6th Microsoft announced the launch of a suite of AI “co-pilots” for workers in jobs ranging from sales and marketing to supply-chain management. Excitable observers murmur about a looming job apocalypse.