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Will Robots Ever Control the Sporting World?

Paul Aitken considers if we will see robots taking over spectator sports.

We are not quite living in the advanced society that was envisioned for us by sci-fi writers of the 1950s, but 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?

Some Sports Have Already Been Mastered by Robots

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 2 decades since this momentous victim for robot kind, 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 really 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 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 are working on football playing robots with a goal of beating 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 basically a robot form of Formula 1. The machines have already been dominating the sport of high-speed racing for a number of years, but in this robot sport they have taken over completely.

With the amount of safety limitations holding back sports like F1 and NASCAR from getting quicker and more enjoyable to spectators, there seems to be an obvious 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, they use 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 actually 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, but if we skip the cynicism for a moment we realize that the ones investing the big bucks in this industry—including Google, who have their fingers in many pies, and the computing geniuses at Microsoft—are also some of the most philanthropic business 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 other 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 Steal, anyone?) and ping pong competitions.

Just leave the professional Scrabble tournament for the humans.


Page Reference

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  • ATKIN, P. (2018) Will Robots Ever Control the Sporting World? [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article315.htm [Accessed

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 featured on many of the web's biggest sites, including many major print publications in the UK and US.

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