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Elon Musk might finally be realizing he needs humans

Tesla learned one thing while making its new Model 3: Even as robots begin to help humans more, they still need help — from humans.

Elon Musk, a devoted futurist who wants to make driverless cars, isn’t known to have much patience for humans. But back in April, the CEO of electric carmaker Tesla tweeted that “humans are underrated.”

He was referring to Tesla’s experience manufacturing its new Model 3 at a factory in Fremont, California, that boasts one of the most robotics-dependent vehicle assembly lines on the planet.

Tesla spent more than $2 billion revamping the plant, according to analysis from investment firm AllianceBernstein, and started making Model 3s there in July 2017. Rather than make the process more efficient, however, Musk’s experiment in extreme automation has repeatedly pushed back the production timeline.


So after a series of delays, Tesla hired more humans to help out the machines. And now, Model 3 production is finally picking up.

“At the moment, the set of occupations and tasks that robots can perform are still limited,” said Daron Acemoglu, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Technology as a whole doesn't just replace people. It creates new opportunities for people. It creates new occupations, new activities.”

While automation does decrease work hours for lower-skilled employees, there are just some tasks — even repetitive ones — that robots still can't do. For example, activities that require fine motor skills, like the type of dexterity needed to put a small pin in a hole or tie a knot.

Machines are able to process huge datasets much more quickly than humans, but they’re still learning how to learn. And they’re not great at nuance or context.

This segment originally aired September 24, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Illustration by Joel Plosz. Motion design by Kazuyuki Ishii and Brian McGee. Video editing by Alexander Stockton.