Sorry, Elon, nobody wants your robot babysitting their kids

Robot holding baby
Adobe Firefly-generated iamge of a robot holding a baby (Image credit: Adobe Firefly)

Tesla's Optimus robot is developing at a pace that might even startle some robotics fans. It's walking faster and even has a factory job. Maybe it'll run next and, if you believe Tesla CEO Elon Musk, even babysit your kids.

Hold on there. What?!

During a lengthy and sometimes rambling Tesla shareholders meeting on June 20, 2024, Musk walked through the market potential of its Optimus humanoid robot. 

Musk believes his Optimus robot could help Tesla's bottom line by selling at $20,000 a pop and in the billions. How he came up with that number is a bit unclear, but he started with how the car market sells around 100 million vehicles a year and extrapolated from there.

If there's a robot for every person, he might be right, and you can't blame Musk for some irrational exuberance. As Musk noted, "Now, admittedly I’m a little optimistic sometimes. You know, I don’t have a complete lack of self-awareness. But if I wasn’t optimistic, this wouldn’t exist this factory wouldn’t exist."

And then Musk crossed the red line. He explained that Optimus is designed to do virtually anything you want it to do. Optimus "can be your companion, it can be at your house, it can sort of babysit your kids. It can teach them...," Musk told the shareholders.

You caught that, right? Okay, he says "sort of," but you've seen Optimus (and other similarly designed humanoid robots); I doubt you want them anywhere near your babies.

The Tesla Optimus humanoid robot being assisted by two human workers.

(Image credit: Tesla)

Musks's comments come a week after Tela released an update video showing Optimus walking less haltingly than previous models through Tesla's offices (it still can't trot or parkour). It even shows Optimus at work in its first Tesla factory job, where it appears to be employed in packaging. In the video, it places small containers in a box.

At one point, the robot misplaces and then carefully realigns a jar. All of its motions are slow, deliberate, and passionless.

It's not that I think Optimus will drop or harm your baby (I have no idea), but a cold, metal, and plastic automaton should not be holding, hugging, and burping your baby. Perhaps Musk would like his robot to care for one of his 11 children. Admittedly, he has his hands full and could use the help. Robots, though, are not the answer.

More pragmatically, it's this kind of rhetoric that could turn off potentially willing humanoid robot customers. Yes, as Musk noted, we want C-3PO and R2-D2. There are a lot of boring, hard, and even dangerous jobs around the home. I wouldn't mind a robot that could handle all those spam calls. No one that I know wants a robot to take over our most human of tasks.

I'm not a fan of adults handing small children their phones or tablets to "babysit" them, but at least no one expects these devices to watch and care for small children. Usually, their sole responsibility is distraction so the parents can have a moment's peace.

Don't expect Optimus to arrive at your local daycare center anytime soon. Musk predicted possibly limited production by 2025, and even then, Tesla might only produce 1,000 robots a year.

"We're gonna make sure these robots are nice to us. That's very important," said Musk, and that's a worthy goal. Also, keep your damn, dirty robot hands off my babies.

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Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.