Anyone over the age of 26 who is not a high-paid professional athlete knows how the nerds versus jocks rivalry ended. The nerds won. By a lot.
Each year teams of computer scientists from the around the world come together for RoboCup, a heated soccer tournament for robots. The goal: “By mid-21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win the soccer game, comply with the official rule of the FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.”
So far, the physical skill on display at RoboCup is underwhelming. The robotic specimens move slowly and deliberately, stopping often to scan the small indoor field for the ball. As you can see in the video below where Virginia Tech’s CHARLI scores the winning goal for the Humanoid competition, even the fittest robots would be no match for an average five year-old.
But what robots lack in physicality they make up for in software brains. All competitors are autonomous, meaning they can compete using just the software created by their team.
While the idea of a humans v. robots soccer game sounds fun, I don’t want to be there when RoboCup meets their goal. Sports are about high stakes. Athletes exhibit decades of training, employ courage and chase their dreams very literally when they play. Sports are an emotional test of human ability. Entering robots, which don’t have dreams and don’t feel pain, into the equation takes all the fun out of it.
I’ve also watched too many Hollywood movies to be comfortable with robots physically and mentally dominating humans—even on a soccer field.
That said, making autonomous, sport-playing robots is an incredible feat, and I can understand why robot-makers have a long-term goal to someday kick ass on the soccer field. Nerds beat jocks at the game of life but they’re still stuck with scars accumulated from 4 to 6 years of wedgies, evil nicknames and sexual frustration. In that sense, if the day ever comes for the nerds to take their symbolic revenge, the stakes will be plenty high.
But based on the excruciatingly awkward athleticism in the video below, they have a little ways to go.