“Yeah, but who will build the robots?”

When I talk to people about the threat of automation, it’s very common for unconvinced listeners to respond with simple questions that they expect will stop me in my tracks. They think that if robots take our jobs, then naturally, we’ll all get jobs making these machines. The most common questions I hear are as follows:

  1. Yeah, but who will build the robots?
  2. I hear you, but who will maintain the robots?
  3. Okay, sure, but who will program the robots?

So, in an effort to satisfy these people, I will genuinely answer their questions.

  1. Who will build the robots?

Short answer: the robots will build the robots. There are already bots that can build other intelligent machines and there are even ones that can make progressively better robots each time they construct one. A few years ago, researchers at Cambridge University made a robot arm that creates robots from little programmed boxes. Every time the “mother” bot assembled the boxes, the robot that resulted was better than the last. So yes, the robots will be built by robots, and they will get better and better at doing it.

2. Who will maintain the robots?

The robots will. A few years ago a robot on the International Space Station was used to repair itself and another robot. The camera systems were failing on both machines, so the Canadian Space Agency with help from NASA programmed the robot to fix itself and it’s “partner.” So no, your local Uber driver that works on his own car when necessary won’t get a job as a robot repairman after his job is automated.

3. Who will program the robots?

Can you guess the answer to this question? Many AIs can already learn, so in a sense, they can program themselves. This has been shown time and time again, most pointedly with that MIT-developed AI that gets progressively better at beating Atari games. Machine Learning, as its called, is a very popular technology with thousands of startups that use it. 76% of business executives at large companies use it. Every time you search on Google you use it.

So, I hope I have answered some of the inevitable questions I get about how AI will affect jobs. If not, go ask a chatbot, cause I’m tired of trying to explain it to you.