What Gives Me Optimism: WIRED Editor-in-Chief Nick Thompson

Building a toy robot with his 4-year-old son made Thompson “profoundly” hopeful for the future.

As part of an ongoing series, Thrive is asking some of the most interesting people we know to tell us what’s been making them hopeful lately. Here’s what Nick Thompson, the Editor-in-Chief of WIRED, shared with us:

Last weekend, my 4-year-old son declared that he wanted to build a robot. I said, fine, of course, let’s do it. So we headed off to the hardware store, where I told him he could get whatever parts he wanted. We more or less designed it in the store: We turned metal paint rollers into the legs and two plant pots (one facing up and one down) into the body. Two small toilet plungers served nicely as the eyes, with an electrical socket working as the nose and mouth and a wine-remover stick as the mouth. Metal springs made for nice arms, and a sanding device looked like a suitable head.

We took him or her home and assembled everything with Gorilla Glue. “We’re done,” I declared.

But, no, of course no child’s project is ever quite done. My son declared that robots need to talk. So we added an echo dot. Then he declared “it needs to do things.”

I asked “what?”

“It needs to help people!” he responded.

“Great,” I said. “How?”

“It should poop cleaning supplies.”

“Why would you want it to do that?” I asked.

“Because then it would be easier for you to clean the kitchen,” my son responded.

I realized he had a point. It would be easier to clean the kitchen if your little robot was pooping cleaning supplies. And this made me profoundly optimistic. If the robots of the future are built to make it easier for us do important things like clean kitchens — instead of, say, manipulate democracy or replace our jobs — then we’re all going to be OK.

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