Will Robots Ever Control the Sporting World?
Paul Aitken considers if we will see robots taking over spectator sports.
We are not entirely living in the advanced society that was envisioned for us by sci-fi writers of the 1950s. Still, robots are gradually working their way into our everyday lives. They are taking jobs that we once needed humans for, and before long they could be putting millions of the working class out of work, while also taking jobs away from writers, artists, designers, and more.
The 2010s is the decade we heard about burger-flipping robots entering the kitchens of fast-food chains, the decade in which robots wrote novels and created truly mind-blowing art. It is a scary proposition for many skilled and non-skilled workers, but what about sports stars?
Is this an area that will always rely on human involvement, or will we also see robots taking over spectator sports?
Robots have Already Mastered some Sports
In 1997 the world watched in awe as world chess champion Garry Kasparov lost to a chess computer named Deep Blue. It was the first of its kind, but not the last. In the two decades since this momentous victim for a robot, they have conquered many other games.
AI programmed games of poker, backgammon, and pretty much every board game under the sun are already way better than us humans. Scrabble is a great example of this. You might think that it would require the sort of strategy and skill that robots cannot master, but if you have ever played online Scrabble and made use of the "Hint" feature, you will know that is not true. The computer knows the best move every single time, which means there is no competition.
Of course, if one computer were to play another at a game like this, it would all be down to the luck of the draw, with the letters are drawn being the only deciding factor. So, what happens with games that cannot be perfected in such a way?
Machines that Move
Computers can process algorithms far better than we can, and that has been the case for many years now. They might not have our capacity for emotional thought and reasoning, but they can outperform us when it comes to strategy, logistics, and analysis. The biggest stumbling block right now for robot manufacturers is replicating the way humans move.
They are not that far behind, though. They have already created robots that can walk, run and climb stairs. These robots are not yet as nimble or stable as we are, but they are stronger and more durable, and that is an important step.
There is also an active organization called The Federation of International Robot-Sport Association (FIRA) who is working on football-playing robots to beat a world champion human team by 2050.
Or, failing that, the England national team by 2020.
They seem confident, but based on the current technology, it seems highly unlikely that they will be able to meet their goal.
Football requires too much skill, dexterity, and agility, something that would be the very peak of a robot's ability. In the meantime, however, our potential robot overlords already have their eyes on dominating other sports. The Roborace is a robot form of Formula 1. The machines have already been dominating the sport of high-speed racing for many years, but in this robot sport they have taken over completely.
With the number of safety limitations holding back sports like F1 and NASCAR from getting quicker and more enjoyable to spectators, there seems to be a noticeable gap in the market for a 100% robot motor race to take over.
Robots may also quickly adapt to sports like ping pong and table tennis because human players are already relying on them as training aids. They use analytics to measure swings and exertion, machines to serve balls to them, and machines to fire their serves back at them. There is even a record-breaking table tennis robot out there already, and it puts even the best players to shame.
Why This Is Not All Bad
As scary as it is to think that humans could lose their jobs to machines, it is worth remembering that humans will still be needed. Those machines need to be made, operated, and maintained. And instead of taking away jobs, they may create more, improving countless industries all over the world. What is more, if robots are harvesting, packing and shipping essentials like food and clothing, it means the costs can be brought right down, which in turn means there will be more opportunity to get food and clothing to those who would otherwise be without.
That would rely on the big companies doing some good, of course. Still, if we skip the cynicism for a moment, we realize that the ones investing the big bucks in this industry, including Google, and the computing geniuses at Microsoft are also some of the most philanthropic businesses in the world. They may not pay their taxes, but at least they give some money to help others.
It means that robots can do the jobs no human wants to do, while those humans can be moved on to other, better jobs. The advancement of robotics also helps us in many different ways.
Cutting-edge robots mean we can advance the field of artificial organs. It means we can provide healthcare, transplants, and prosthetics to those in need. It also means we get to watch a lot of cool robot football matches, boxing fights (Real Steel, anyone?), and ping pong competitions.
Just leave the professional Scrabble tournament for the humans.
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About the Author
Paul Aitken is a freelance writer and the author of The Online Writer's Companion. He writes under several different pseudonyms, and his work has been featured on many of the web's most prominent sites, including many major print publications in the UK and US.