Nerd Talk: Are You Ready for Robot Sports?

The Roborace league features AI driven cars, not enough lasers

February 28, 2017


Are you going to be ok when artificially intelligent robots start playing our sports?

As long as we think about the sports we love the way we love them, the answer for me is a hard "no."

The beauty of sport is watching the human mind paired with a physical ability pushed to the point of bending without a break. When you see Russell Wilson scrambling with nowhere to go and all you can think about is "don't throw an interception," we get to see if his animal brain or rational brain is going to command his actions.

It's thrilling, unscripted, and imperfect.

When those brains are replaced by processors with developmental half-lives shorter than the life of a fruit fly, at some point there will be nothing but stalemate in competition, a battle of tiny imperceptible gains and losses with no interesting winners. Approaching perfection is boring when both sides are mathematically walking that line.

Let me give you an example: some nerds/dummies want robots to drive our race cars... The same robots that will soon hunt us down and laser us to a dustpan full of ashes:

Roborace features cars that all use the same hardware while leaving it to nerdy engineers to program the AI for getting it safely to the finish line. Despite my bitching, it's actually super cool. Also, it's perfectly timed as the world awaits driverless Ubers and semi-trucks (that hopefully don't tip over on I-5). They ran their first two car race in February and it is actually more exciting than I expected because one crashed like a big dummy!

Listen, anyone who watches NASCAR and doesn't do it to see crashes either is A. a liar or B. a race car driver. It's often more spectacular when open wheel race cars crash, specifically when no one is hurt*. But these robots will battle one another until the AI gets smart enough to keep everyone running in an optimal boring line. That sounds like at the rate of development, this will get lame fast. That is why I propose one of two things:

1. Super Mario Kart style weaponizing boxes that robots drive over to get special abilities like red/green shells, banana peels etc to spice up the driving.
2. Install deflector shields, laser cannons, and TIE fighter noises on each car to spice up the spectacle and make things more explode-y.

After seeing the final version of what the cars look like, I'm suddenly more interested again:

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*Fernando Alonso specifically - he was ok.