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Tesla CEO Elon Musk gestures as he arrives to visit the construction site of a factory near Berlin on Sept. 3, 2020.ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk will host Saturday Night Live. Domino’s Pizza is experimenting with self-driving robot delivery. On the surface, these two facts have nothing to do with each other. One involves a controversial visionary known for bold innovation. The other involves Elon Musk. Together, however, they are a telling commentary on where the automobile sits in the collective North American consciousness.

The announcement that Musk, 49, who is also the CEO of SpaceX, would host Saturday Night Live on May 8 was big news and drew applause from his millions of fans and condemnation from his critics. That Saturday Night Live is going with a host that even some of its cast objects to shouldn’t surprise anyone. The show has a history of controversial hosts. Its producers know how to stoke ratings. They know controversy works. Donald Trump hosted in 2015. Comedians Larry David and Bill Burr shocked some with their opening monologues.

What’s most surprising about Elon Musk hosting is that it demonstrates that we live in an era when an automobile mogul can be interesting enough, famous enough and divisive enough to host Saturday Night Live. You have to be Justin Bieber-level famous to host SNL. Musk hosting demonstrates that automobiles, which over the last 25 years were dismissed as inconsequential to popular culture, are now front and centre. The future of the automobile hasn’t been this relevant since the 1960s.

Can you imagine automobile executive Lee Iacocca hosting? Saturday Night Live satirized him but never had him on. Whether you hate him or not, Musk is a visionary. Musk realized – long before many others – that consumers loved driving but wanted to fight climate change. His answer was the Tesla, which came close to bankruptcy in 2008. He saved the company and sold that dream, and the world bought it.

Today he is the wealthiest person in the world. He’s tweeted against unionization and been skeptical of COVID-19 measures. He plans to use SpaceX to colonize Mars. Musk puts his money where his mouth is, and his mouth is almost always running. Of the first trip to the red planet, he was recently quoted saying “You might die … and you probably won’t have good food and all these things. It’s an arduous and dangerous journey where you may not come back alive, but it’s a glorious adventure.”

The opposite end of the scale is the Domino’s pilot project for self-driving pizza delivery. You know the pizza-delivery guy? The guy who drives a pizza over to you and then hands it to you? Yeah, they’re coming for him. Domino’s R2 bot (made by Nuro) will be tested delivering pizzas in Houston. The R2, which is 1.2 metres wide and little under two metres tall, is powered by a 31-kw battery and can reach a maximum speed of 40 km/h. The reason for the experiment is that Domino’s wants to see how consumers react to self-driving delivery.

Probably, a lot of them will say, “What happened to the pizza-delivery guy?”

Searching for ways to use technology to reduce costs and increase sales isn’t novel. The notion of pizza-guy-less delivery, however, is a new high (or low) on the spectrum. It shows that we live in an era in which the quest to replace man with machine is never-ending. Taxi drivers? Truck drivers? Pizza-delivery guys? The guys who play pizza delivery guys in X-rated movies? Guess what: There’s a robot with your name on it.

The Domino’s announcement caused very little stir compared to the uproar over Elon Musk. As a culture, we like when goods can become cheaper, and we don’t care at what cost. New technology erases some jobs and creates new ones, but these sorts of radical changes leave waves of workers out in the cold. No one cares until it’s you the robot is replacing.

The R2-bot experiment is voluntary. Customers must agree to participate before they get robot delivery. If asked, I’m not sure I would go along. I like the pizza-delivery guy. One of the nicest things he does is say, “See you next week.” Would R2 remember that each week I cave and order pizza? Probably not. It would just bleep at me. I have enough things bleeping at me already.

Maybe somebody should tell Elon Musk to apply his Quixotic genius to this arena. I would love to one day hear him say something like, “You might die … it’s an arduous and dangerous journey where you may not come back alive, but it’s a glorious adventure” about pizza delivery. Then we would know we have fully arrived in the 21st century.

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