Home Episode ROBOTS: Will Robots Ever Defeat Human Athletes?

ROBOTS: Will Robots Ever Defeat Human Athletes?

November 10, 2021

Today’s episode is part one in our FOUR PART MINI SEASON SERIES AND SHOW FINALE [airhorn noises]. We’re going out with a robotic bang: four episodes about four different ways that robots might impact your life in the future, starting with sports. 

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Music by Ilan Blanck.

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Flash Forward is hosted by Rose Eveleth and produced by Julia Llinas Goodman. The intro music is by Asura and the outro music is by Hussalonia. The episode art is by Mattie Lubchansky. Amanda McLoughlin and Multitude Productions handle our ad sales. 

If you want to suggest a future we should take on, send us a note on Twitter, Facebook or by email at info@flashforwardpod.com. We love hearing your ideas! And if you think you’ve spotted one of the little references I’ve hidden in the episode, email us there too. If you’re right, I’ll send you something cool. 

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That’s all for this future, come back next time and we’ll travel to a new one. 

FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

transcripts provided by Emily White at The Wordary

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FLASH FORWARD
S7E15 – “ROBOTS: Will Robots Ever Defeat Human Athletes?”

ROSE EVELETH:
Hey everybody! Before we go to the show today, I have a big announcement to make about the future of Flash Forward. What you’re about to hear is the first episode of our four-part season finale. I’m really excited about it. I really hope you like it. Those four episodes are also going to be the last episodes of Flash Forward for a while and the last episode ever of Flash Forward in the style that you have gotten used to.

Flash Forward has been my weird little future cyborg baby for, like, seven years now. We’ve made over 150 episodes! And it is time for something new. I’m not going to go on and on here about this, but you can find out more about this decision and what comes next on the website; there’s a little blog post with plenty of blubbering, and explanations, and logistics, and all of that good stuff. The important thing to know is that this is the beginning of the end of Flash Forward for now, and I want to celebrate everything that we’ve been able to make with you, listeners. So if you go to that blog post, you will find a link to sign up for a very special show finale event. It’s online, it’s on December 17th, and the only way to get access to it is by signing up so I can send you the invite link when the time comes. So go to the blog post if you want to sign up for that. I’ll remind you as it comes closer.

I really hope that you’ll join me and say hello, and goodbye, and have some fun.

Okay, now on to the first episode of our season finale.

[Flash Forward intro music – “Whispering Through” by Asura, an electronic, rhythm-heavy piece]

ROSE:
Hello and welcome to Flash Forward! I’m Rose and I’m your host. Flash Forward is a show about the future. Every episode we take on a specific possible, or sometimes not-so-possible future scenario. We always start with a little field trip into the future to check out what is going on, and then we teleport back to today to talk to experts about how that world that we just heard might actually happen, or not happen. Got it?

This episode, we are starting in the year 2042.

FICTION SKETCH BEGINS

[retro ‘80s-style poppy techno beat robot voice sings “X Marks the Bot”]

RACHAEL DECKARD:
Welcome to X Marks the Bot, a show where we find out who has the nuts and who is bolting home. [record scratch] (annoyed) Seriously? That’s horrible.

[music picks back up]

I’m your host, Rachael Deckard, and we’ve scoured the United States for the world’s best builders, makers, designers, and tinkerers to bring to our warehouse for the ultimate robotics competition.

CONTESTANTS MONTAGE:
(through laughter) I’m going to start crying!Look, if the robot apocalypse is coming, we want to be ready!

RACHAEL:
Every aspect of their experience and skill will be tested in four epic challenges.

CONTESTANTS MONTAGE:
That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done!Are you bleeding??

RACHAEL:
And judged by our incredible in-house experts; John Dee and Dorothy Levitt, along with a rolling cast of surprise guests.

JOHN DEE:
Perhaps he was scared into submission! (laughs)

RACHAEL:
In the end, only one team will win the title and take home the X Marks the Bot grand prize of $50,000 and a trip to the brand-new Mars space station.

[poppy techno theme music fades down]

For our first challenge, Dorothy has given you a task of Olympic proportions. Dorothy, want to explain the challenge?

DOROTHY:
Today we’re tasking you with the ultimate test of physical prowess: the modern pentathlon.

CONTESTANT:
Literally have never heard of modern… pantheon?

DOROTHY:
I see many of you look confused. The modern pentathlon has been an essential athletic contest since the modern Olympic games began in 1912. In fact, it was invented by the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin. The sport tests an athlete in the core skills they would need to possess if they were to be caught behind enemy lines; fencing, swimming, equestrian jumping, pistol shooting, and cross-country running.

RACHAEL:
Each team will be assigned one of the five elements of the modern pentathlon. Your job is to create a robot that can defeat a real human modern pentathlete in that element. Will one member of each team please come up and select a medal from the wall? On the back, you’ll find which element you have chosen.

[metal shuffling]

MALIK:
Oh, thank god. We got swimming!

SUMMER:
Yes!! Nice!

ASHOKA:
Shooting. Easy.

HALIMAH:
Running! We just have to outrun a person!

CHAD:
We got fencing, which seems… really hard.

AMANDA:
We got equestrian? I have no idea, like, what that even is.

RACHAEL:
Dorothy, do you have any tips for the contestants?

DOROTHY:
Remember your parameters and plan before you build.

RACHAEL:
All right. You each have six hours to complete your robots. Ready. Set. Build!

[tinkering, building, making sounds begin]

While they design their robots, let’s meet our teams, shall we?

Hailing from Stanford California, we have Team Double Trouble. No, your eyes do not deceive you. Alex and Amanda are identical twins. But sibling rivalries can definitely run deep. When this dynamic duo is working well together, they can do anything. When they’re not, well, let’s just say that sparks might fly. Literally.

ALEX:
I came out of the womb first, just for the record.

AMANDA:
Yeah, I like to think before making any rash decisions.

RACHAEL:
Okay, so you guys got equestrian. How are you feeling?

AMANDA:
Honestly? Horrible.

ALEX:
The production team had to show us videos of the jumping because we just, like, do not even know what this event is.

RACHAEL:
What’s your plan?

AMANDA:
I think we’ll just use the Boston Dynamics chassis style and make legs that can jump, and we just have to make sure we get the clearance.

RACHAEL:
Oh, so you’re going to make the horse?

ALEX:
Yes? Isn’t that what the event is?

RACHAEL:
Don’t look at me! I’ve never heard of modern pentathlon either!

AMANDA:
Yeah, I still don’t think this is a real sport.

RACHAEL:
Okay, we’ll leave you to it.

Next up, we have Team Reboot. Chad and Lina both left high-power jobs in totally disparate fields to build a new career in robotics. They met at a coding boot camp and have been inseparable ever since.

LINA:
We might come from a boot camp…

CHAD:
But we’re here to force the competitors to reboot!

RACHAEL:
Okay, so you two got fencing. That seems like a hard one.

CHAD:
Yeah, I think ours is the only one that requires the robot to be able to see and react to another person.

LINA:
Honestly, this seems kind of unfair. They just have to make a robot that swims.

SUMMER:
Hey! Yours doesn’t have to be watertight!

RACHAEL:
Do you two have a plan?

LINA:
Honestly? Not yet.

CHAD:
I’m sure we’ll come up with one though. We just have to focus.

RACHAEL:
So you’re telling me to get out of your face?

LINA:
(laughs) Only a little bit.

RACHAEL:
Fine. I can take the hint.

Our next team is perhaps the least likely duo in the competition. Brad and Halimah are self-proclaimed robot haters whose various diabolical inventions usually wind up destroying robots rather than building them.

HALIMAH:
Look, if the robot apocalypse is coming, we want to be ready.

BRAD:
What can fight our robot overlords better than other robot overlords?

RACHAEL:
So, do you two wish you had gotten fencing? You seem like the fighting type.

HALIMAH:
(laughs) No. Fencing is so hard. I’m really happy we got running. Should be pretty easy, I think.

BRAD:
I just want to know how fast our surprise judge is. Like, how fast do we need to make this robot?

RACHAEL:
So what’s this?

HALIMAH:
I’m designing the backplate for him right now with a little target on it, so our human knows where to shoot to take him down. (laughs diabolically)

RACHAEL:
(laughs) Okay! That’s not creepy at all. Let’s move on.

Here to put the ‘power’ in “flower power,” we have Team Solar Punk. Malik and Summer might not look high-tech, but they’ve got an impressive set of inventions between them.

MALIK:
A lot of people think that hippies have no interest in technology, but we are here to prove that’s not true.

SUMMER:
Seriously! Where do people think the ‘power’ in “flower power” even comes from? [snickers]

We got swimming, which I’m so happy about.

MALIK:
Yeah, we’ve made a ton of swimming bots.

SUMMER:
Malik once made a surfing dog robot! It was sooo cute!

RACHAEL:
You’re not worried about jinxing it?

MALIK:
Nah. We got good vibes on our side, baby!

RACHAEL:
And last but not least, we have perhaps our most mysterious team; Team X. So, Team X, want to introduce yourselves?

ASHOKA:
Not really.

ELIZA:
We like making robots, and we’re good at it. Isn’t that the point of the show?

RACHAEL:
I mean… I guess so. (laughs) All right, you two are the most calm and collected here. You got shooting?

ASHOKA:
Yep.

RACHAEL:
Do you have a plan?

ELIZA:
Yes.

RACHAEL:
Do you maybe want to tell us what it is?

ASHOKA:
It’s on the plans we drew over there.

RACHAEL:
Right… Well, don’t let me disturb you.

Dorothy and John, what are you seeing out there as our competitors get to work?

JOHN:
Well, it looks like some teams really do have their plan of attack and are diving right in, which is great. Great to see. Not quite sure what Team Double Trouble is doing over there…

DOROTHY:
I’m most worried about Team Reboot. I do think they got one of the harder events with fencing.

RACHAEL:
Which event would you definitely not want to have to make, John?

JOHN:
Oh, equestrian, by far. To build a robot that can mount a horse and control that horse in real-time to get over hurdles… I think we might have given them an impossible task, frankly, and I’m really not sure what we’re seeing over there on their bench.

RACHAEL:
Well, only time will tell I guess.

CONTESTANTS MONTAGE:
Where’s the drill?
There’s no way we’re going to finish this!

RACHAEL:
Five, four, three, two, one! Tools down!

CONTESTANTS MONTAGE:
Oh, man!
Are you bleeding?
Oh, that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

RACHAEL:
All right, competitors. Before you bring your robots to your designated testing areas, I’d like to introduce this week’s guest judge: Pierre Balk. Two-time gold medalist in the modern pentathlon. Your robots will be pitted against Pierre’s experience and skill.

Pierre, what do you think?

PIERRE:
I’m excited, a little bit nervous. I’ll be pretty embarrassed if I lose to a robot. (laughs) You’re not going to make me hand over my medals, are you? (laughs) My metals, you see… because robots, they’re made of it. Perhaps they will take my medals and… build more of themselves. I don’t know!

RACHAEL:
(laughs) Maybe. Let’s see how you do!

Competitors, please bring your robots to their testing zones. We’re going to run the modern pentathlon in order, so we start with fencing. Let the games begin!

[robotic movements, knocking, banging…]

PIERRE:
Whoa! Okay… En garde!

[crashing metal]

RACHAEL:
Oh… oh! Oh no!

PIERRE:
Perhaps he was… scared into submission. (laughs)

CHAD:
So… it didn’t work, like, at all.

LINA:
It was a nightmare! Like, I will have nightmares about this for the rest of my life.

RACHAEL:
Now, onto the swim.

[water splashing]

Whoa! Now it’s hard to tell who’s winning because the robot is generating a lot of water and wave action.

I’m getting word that, yes, the robot did win. But it also did not stop, so it crashed into the end of our pool and created some… damage.

SUMMER:
(laughs) Dude! I mean, at least we won?

RACHAEL:
Now on to the event I’ve personally been most excited for; equestrian. So, will our crew please bring out the horses?

AMANDA:
Wait…

RACHAEL:
So it looks like we have three horses but only one rider?

DOROTHY:
What… happened?

AMANDA:
Oh my god! (laughs) We built a horse! We thought we had to build the horse!

ALEX:
We… just didn’t realize what the task was, I guess. Is this the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me? Maybe.

AMANDA:
(laughs) I’m sorry. I think if I stop laughing, I’m going to start crying.

RACHAEL:
I think we have to call this one for Pierre since we can’t put the robot horse on top of the other horse.

PIERRE:
I suppose I should take any win I can get.

RACHAEL:
On to the final two events.

DOROTHY:
In modern pentathlon, these events are run simultaneously, so we’re going to do that here, too. First, the athlete runs, then stops to shoot.

RACHAEL:
The robot is winning the racing part handily, if a little ungracefully. Now let’s see how well Team X’s robot shoots.

[gunshots]

Whoa! Perfect shots! Back to the running bot.

[gears spinning and whining]

PIERRE:
[coughing and gasping] I concede! I concede! There’s no chance! No chance I can catch a robot!

RACHAEL:
Ultimate score, here we have two for Pierre and three for the robots! How do you feel, Pierre?

PIERRE:
Well, at least I know I can still outfence and outride my technological overlords… but I’m not sure I’d make it past robot enemy lines, especially not if that shooter robot was involved. Ooh, that thing legitimately freaked me out.

RACHAEL:
Teams, you all worked so hard over the last day, and we all really want to commend your dedication, creativity, and perseverance. It was truly incredible to see what you could do in such a limited amount of time.

That said, we do have to eliminate a team, and that team is… Double Trouble.

DOROTHY:
We really admired your creativity, but you didn’t follow the parameters of the task.

RACHAEL:
Please come up and surrender your soldering irons.

[theme music plays]

AMANDA:
I mean, of course it’s never fun to be the first to go, but we literally did not do the thing we were supposed to do… So I completely understand it.

LINA:
I’m shocked. I really thought we’d be going home. I mean, theirs could actually jump over the hurdles. Ours couldn’t even take a step.

SUMMER:
As long as they don’t send us a bill for the pool damage, eh, I’m happy.

RACHAEL:
Come back next time for more robotic magic and mayhem on X Marks the Bot.

[theme music plays, concludes with robot singing “X Marks the Bot”]
 
FICTION SKETCH END

ROSE:
Okay, so we are starting our robots mini-series with a topic near and dear to my heart: sports. And I would just like to first say, for the record, that modern pentathlon is indeed a real sport.

JOE CHOONG:
So, modern pentathlon was created to tell the story of a 19th-century cavalry soldier, the idea being that you ride into battle on your horse, you shoot and you fence your way out with, like, an épée for fencing and a pistol for shooting. And then to escape, you have to swim across a river and then run to safety.

ROSE:
This is Joe Choong, gold medalist in the Tokyo Olympic Games in modern pentathlon.

JOE:
I started out as a decent swimmer. I did a lot of swimming up to when I was, like, 15, 16; and then I also played rugby at school. So, being able to run and swim’s kind of unusual. A lot of swimmers are awful on dry land. So, being able to do both meant I got chosen for my school’s biathlon team, which is just, like, running and swimming combined. And it’s sort of the first step into a modern pentathlon.

ROSE:
And Joe says that this is pretty common for modern pentathletes. Most of them start with one or two sports and then kind of find their way to this odd, combined discipline.

So, Joe started with swimming and running; he picked up fencing pretty quickly. But he does have one event that, for him, is the hardest.

JOE:
For me, it was the horse riding. Like, I’ve got hay fever; I’m allergic to horses. So that made it a bit tricky.

ROSE:
There’s also an added element of difficulty when it comes to this horse-riding event. The competitors do not know the horse they wind up riding. They’re actually assigned a random horse 20 minutes before the event.

JOE:
We’re allowed to do five warmup jumps and, in 20 minutes, get to know the horse, get to know how it likes to be ridden, and then we have to go out and do the showjumping course almost straight away.

ROSE:
You might have heard about this, this past Olympics, because there was some controversy around the equestrian portion of the event this past year. We’re not going to talk about that here, but we will talk about it in the bonus podcast. But the tl;dr on it is that modern pentathlon is apparently considering eliminating or replacing the equestrian event. So here’s my pitch: Make the horses robots. Eh? Or maybe make them ride, like, mechanical bulls? I would watch that.

ROSE (on call):
If I came to you and I was like, “Joe, I have a robot that I think can beat you,” would you take the challenge?

JOE:
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, I think you can obviously program a robot to be faster at running, maybe at swimming. But I think it’s the ones like, yeah, the horse riding and the fencing where there’s a bit more, sort of, tactics to it. And I really think it would be interesting to see if you could program a robot to compete like that because, well, like to think about people programs, chess coding now is just better than the best human players in the world. But I think fencing is slightly different to chess, so it would be like, how complex is a sport in terms of trying to program the robot?

ROSE (mono):
Now, I picked modern pentathlon in part because I think it’s got a really interesting history, and there are five events and we had five teams for our little intro scene. But there are actually roboticists trying to build robots that can compete against humans, just in a different sport.

DR. PETER STONE:
We’re talking about the World Cup champion. That’s the goal. We’ve given ourselves ‘til 2050 to be able to beat people.

ROSE:
This is Dr. Peter Stone, a computer science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and president of an organization called the International RoboCup Federation.

PETER:
The mission is to advance the state of the art in artificial intelligence and robotics using primarily, or initially, the game of soccer.

ROSE:
And they picked soccer, – or, for our international listeners, football – for a couple of reasons.

PETER:
One is that it is the world’s most popular sport. It’s an international organization and so, you know, globally soccer is just, you know, hands down the most-watched and followed in popular sport.

ROSE:
The goal of RoboCup is to have this unifying, difficult challenge that can advance robotics, but also to provide a place to showcase those robotics. And what better way to show off, than challenge the most famous athletes on the planet? But that’s actually not the only reason they picked soccer.

PETER:
You can play a sensible game of soccer with robots in two dimensions. You know, you can have the ball on the ground the entire time and it still looks like soccer. Whereas if you’re talking about basketball, or baseball, or volleyball, many other sports, you’d have to be able to build robots that can actually propel the ball or catch the ball in the air. And you know, that’s just… it’s another level of difficulty.

ROSE:
Peter actually got involved with RoboCup at the very beginning, before it was even called RoboCup. As a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, he went to a big robotics conference and saw this demonstration of soccer-playing robots.

PETER:
Two robots, one on each team knocking a ping pong ball around. I saw this and I was very impressed, partly because I’m a soccer player myself and had been… I played on my varsity soccer team in college and I’ve been playing since I was a kid.

ROSE:
This was not exactly what Peter had gone to grad school to do, but he asked his thesis advisor, and she very gamely said, like, “Sure, go for it.” So Peter really was at the ground level for this project. He was there for the first-ever RoboCup event, which… you know… didn’t go great?

PETER:
The robots were, you know, sort of driving around in circles. They were running into the walls. There was one team that I think two of the robots caught fire during the events, like their batteries overheated and there was… you didn’t see a plume of smoke and a person would run onto the field, and pick it up, and take it away.

ROSE:
That was in 1997. Today, RoboCup has expanded to more than 40 countries and has events every year. And as far as I know, nobody has caught on fire recently.

I will post some of the videos from recent cups on the website. But even today, if you watch the robots in the humanoid league, they’re impressive for sure, but they’re not really anywhere close to human-level impressive. They still move pretty slowly. They fall over a lot. They often have trouble getting back up.

And this is not because the people making these robots aren’t good at what they do. They’re some of the best in the world. It’s because this challenge, this task to make robots play soccer at a human level, is incredibly difficult. These robots have to be able to sense the world around them, think about what they’re doing, react to the ball and other players, and act on all of that information in a way that makes sense.

PETER:
And then, you know, as you move to bigger robots, there’s also power issues. How long does the battery last? If you move outdoors, there’s natural lighting conditions. What happens when the sun is shining on the field or blinding the sensors?

ROSE:
In the past several years, machine learning has been one of the really exciting innovations, but it’s not a silver bullet.

​​PETER:
You know, you tell the robot, “Walk as fast as you can,” and you know, it’ll start moving its legs really quickly in the simulator but the motors can’t move that fast in the real world or something like that. And then you try to make the simulator a little bit more like the real world and something else breaks. And so, this is a common challenge in robotics.

ROSE:
And given all of this, I had to ask Peter if he really thinks that they’re going to build a team of robots that can truly beat the World Cup champions by 2050?

PETER:
It’s hard to say. I mean, you know, I wouldn’t bet too much on it, but I also wouldn’t bet too much against it. One of the… you know, we sometimes joke that, you know, 2050 was chosen by people who will be safely retired by the time 2050 comes along, right? “We won’t be blamed if it doesn’t happen.” And that’s certainly true for me. And we’ve learned a long time ago in artificial intelligence not to make too short-term predictions. The dates blow by you more quickly than you thought.

And that’s happening with autonomous cars. Many people have predicted, you know, that autonomous cars would have totally replaced human-driven cars by now. The first predictions of when a computer would beat the human chess champion were many years earlier than it actually happened. But then it did happen. So, you know, it’s… We’ll see.

ROSE:
Hearing this, you might have some feelings. Maybe you are excited by robots versus humans. Maybe you’re decidedly not excited. For a lot of sports fans, this whole idea gives us a, sort of, uneasy feeling.

And when we come back, we’re going to talk about all the ways that sports already use technology and what the weird and wild future of sporting robots might look like.

JESSICA LUTHER:
I wish everyone could see Brenda’s face right now. Brenda’s face right now is so…

DR. BRENDA ELSEY:
Like, “Just keep your robot hands off my soccer.”

But first, a quick break.

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ROSE:
So here’s a question: What are sports for? What are they about? Why do we watch them? What keeps us coming back?

JESSICA:
Oh, I think they’re so fun. In part, it’s the competition. Like, you don’t know who’s going to win, right? So there’s always a built-in drama. And on the professional level, I think a lot of it is watching people do things that you yourself could never do and just being in awe of that. It’s both the physical side of it, but also, I think… My favorite sport is tennis, and the strategy that these people are doing on the court on both sides of the net can just be… I just… I wish my brain worked that way.

ROSE:
This is Jessica Luther, an investigative journalist and the co-host of a sports podcast that I love called Burn It All Down.

BRENDA:
I love what Jessica said about unpredictability, but I’d add, to my mind, it’s not only what you yourself can’t do, but it’s something that you’re not even sure anybody can do at all. So, what are the limits of the human body? What’s the capacity of the human body? And what’s the capacity for, you know, human beings to be generous, whether it’s someone falling on a track and then someone picking them up.

ROSE:
And that’s Dr. Brenda Elsey, a professor of history at Hofstra University, and another co-host of Burn It All Down. Sports are about being impressed, and amazed, and entertained. And of course, they’re about winning.

DR. RAYVON FOUCHÉ:
I come from this world where second place is the first loser. And that motivates a lot of activities to win. And so I think the efforts to produce a competitive team, improve your physical body to make you more competitive… I think everything is up for grabs, whether it be, you know, praying to whatever god you feel might help you to using whatever techno-scientific tool or element that might help you; from drugwise to, you know, getting asleep to analgesics. I think it’s all up for grabs. It’s all about trying to figure out the most competitive way to win.

ROSE:
This is Dr. Rayvon Fouché, a professor at Purdue University. Ray used to be a competitive cyclist, and he had a front-row seat for the ways that technology can deeply change a sport like that.

RAYVON:
I think all sports have been technological or techno-scientific from the beginning. And I think people who are in it don’t see the next set of shoes, piece of gear, as decidedly any different than more training or some other kind of tool or technique. However, I think people outside the game who are not in it see it vastly different. I think people outside the game see there are these moments where, all of a sudden, the technology allows the athlete to do more than he or she or they should be able to do. And I think that’s where it becomes a moment of conflict.

ROSE:
There are plenty of examples of this thing that he’s talking about. Take swimsuits. Maybe you remember that in the 2000s there was a big controversy around super-fast suits, these really high-tech, low drag suits that swimmers were wearing. In the 17 months after these racing suits hit the market, over 130 world records fell. FINA, the organization that oversees the rules of competitive swimming, eventually banned the full bodysuit, but it did allow those records to stay.

The media largely reported this as some kind of outlier, this wild advance that happened all of a sudden in this one sport that was just way out of hand and totally unusual. But sports are full of these kinds of technological advances happening all the time. Bikes get lighter, shoes get bouncier, sports drinks get more effective.

Even the physical environment that athletes compete in makes a difference. This past Olympics, in Tokyo, there were a bunch of new track records broken and people pointed to the slightly springier track as one possible reason why. Or, to stick with swimming, think of a swimming pool.

RAYVON:
And then when you step back and go, “All right. I live in a house and there are things; the door doesn’t close really well. It’s not particularly square.” You think about, “Okay, this massive concrete surface that was poured in,” and everyone assumes that every lane is exactly the same length to the angstrom, the millimeter. And they’re not. So when we’re having these competitions about swimming, one athlete, if we’re talking about hundredths and thousandths of a second, depending how quickly our athletes are swimming, it might have just been you were in the longer lane or someone else in the shorter lane.

ROSE:
And of course, not everybody has access to all of those things. Women’s sports are often last to get access to technologies and infrastructural updates. In youth sports, there’s often an effort to try and make things fair but that can only last for so long.

JESSICA:
My son, he’s 13, he’s on a middle school archery team, and all the way up through high school they all have to use the exact same bow. So you don’t get a choice. You can buy a bow for your kid or you can use one that the school provides, but no one can have any other version of that bow because, in theory, then super-rich parents cannot go out and buy some high-tech, super calibrated bow, right?

ROSE:
Even access to the kinds of medical technology that can make or break an athlete before they’re even an adult is unequally distributed.

BRENDA:
The famous contract signed on a napkin with Barcelonian Lionel Messi is because his parents couldn’t afford the human growth hormone treatment that he needed in Argentina and it wasn’t really available.

ROSE:
What Brenda is referring to here is the fact that Lionel Messi, who is one of, if not the greatest, male soccer players of all time, signed a contract on a napkin at age 13 to play for Barcelona. And that napkin contract was specifically predicated on him getting medical treatments for a growth hormone disorder.

BRENDA:
You know, his organs would never have developed into healthy adult organs had he not had that treatment, and he was lucky enough to play football. But it only shines a light sometimes… and we love sports for this too. It shines a light because it’s the exception to the rule, because there’s all kinds of kids in Argentina that won’t get that treatment and won’t go on to sign those contracts.

ROSE:
And yes, along with the physiology, and the shoes, and the tracks, and all that, there are robots in athletic training today.

DR. JOSH SIEGEL:
I mean, at the simplest level, things like drones are robots, and we use them to capture camera footage so that plays can be reviewed, so the athletes can understand how is their gait when they’re running across the field? Or how could they think about strategy differently?

ROSE:
This is Dr. Josh Siegel, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Michigan State University.

JOSH:
There’s, you know, older technologies like pitching machines or kicking machines that are now being augmented with robotic capabilities. And the advantage here is that those machines can be very precisely controlled to create scenarios that you might not be able to do with that older kind of open-loop equipment. So, you can emulate a particular player’s pitching style or a particular kick style.

ROSE:
Josh’s favorite sport is racing – which has been using simulators and robots for training for a long time now.

JOSH:
So, I have a full-motion racing rig in my basement, so I’ve got four actuators on it that pick it up and move it around like a car’s wheels actually move the suspension around. There’s force feedback wheels. There’s transducers on each corner that vibrate and conduct vibration through the frame like you’d feel in a real car. And this is the sort of thing that some professional drivers use to train, but like I said, it’s also being diffused through commodity tech. I built mine, but people can buy these off the shelf today.

ROSE:
And if you don’t want to build a robot in your own basement, there are plenty of robotic training devices on the market today.

BRENT VERDIALEZ:
I mean, it’s really an obvious concept. It’s a punching bag that punches back.

ROSE:
This is Brent Verdialez, the founder and CEO of a company called STRYK, which makes a boxing robot. Brent built the first prototype of these robots in 2019.

BRENT:
I was in the military; I was in special operations. I was in the Army Special Forces. And in Special Forces, we have to have, like, we call it combative readiness. So we have to, basically, know how to fight and we trained for it. And you know, me, my background is I’ve done martial arts ever since I was a kid. So I mean, I just do it because I love doing it.

ROSE:
But martial arts training can be challenging on the body. And Brent was already dealing with a whole bunch of injuries.

BRENT:
I had a lot of TBI incidents, so traumatic brain injuries from explosions and stuff like that in the military. And then I also had a tendon tear in my ulnar tendon torn. It’s torn all the way through.

ROSE:
Brent couldn’t punch the punching bags and he couldn’t really be punched, but he could hit these smaller targets that coaches would hold up. The problem was, he just wasn’t getting that much one-on-one time with his coach. He realized that he was driving all the way to and from his gym to just get a couple of minutes of sparring in. And he realized, “Wait a minute… what if I just made myself a training partner?”

BRENT:
And so, for any athlete, whether it’s in combat sports or whatever sport you do, if you have a partner who never gets tired, who can continuously give you unpredictable, you know, physical feedback, physical responses, it’s a pretty obvious idea.

ROSE:
Brent says he is not your typical engineer, but he does know how to wire stuff up. With the help of some of his friends, he built an early model. And he says it took off pretty quickly. He retired from the military, booked a trip to the Philippines to work with some engineers there, and within a year, they went from prototype to product.

BRENT:
Sometimes the old mentality, old-school coaches will be very skeptical; questioning, right? And they are fighters like, “This is so cool. I want to bring it over,” and they’ll be sitting there with their arms crossed, and they’ll be looking at it, you know. And then I turn it on, and then they’re slowly warming up to it. They see it after one round. They won’t say anything. Then afterwards, they’ll be shaking their head yes and they’re like, “That’s the real deal. It really works.”

ROSE:
And in the future, he hopes to make the system even more intelligent.

BRENT:
I don’t want to reveal too much, but I can say that we will be integrating some AI technology. There will be cameras on there that watch your movement and sensors, like distance sensors and stuff like that. For example, if you’re not keeping your hands up, if you’re dropping your hand and you’re punching, it’ll let you know by giving you a light tap.

ROSE:
And he doesn’t want to stop at just boxing or Muay Thai.

BRENT:
My daughter does judo and she says she wants to be a world champion. And so she’s like, “Dad, make me a judo robot.” I was like, “Hm, that’s a good idea.” So I promised her I’ll make her a judo dummy, so we have to do that too.

ROSE:
Now, for Brent, this is all about training. But Josh actually wrote a paper last year that wondered whether, in the future, robo-gladiators could replace human fighters entirely, providing a more “wholesome” alternative to certain, particularly brutal combat sports.

JOSH:
I think robots give us the chance to play out some of our human fantasies, if you will. Some of these sports like football, some of these MMA sports or fighting competitions… you know, it’d be great if we could put a robot into the ring rather than a human. At the end of the day, you know, it may be that instead of helmets and padding, that robots are the only safe way to play some of these sports. And it just begs the question of who’s going to keep watching.

ROSE:
One person who would not keep watching is Brent.

BRENT:
No, no. Big no. It’s not as entertaining.

ROSE:
But one thing that Brent and Josh are both really interested in is a future in which you could replicate the motions and style of an opponent with a robot.

JOSH:
One could imagine a future in which we have a digital twin robot that copies an athlete’s playstyle, that copies their metrics, their biometrics, and lets an individual train against a particular opponent.

ROSE:
We’ve talked about digital twins on the show before, the idea that you could take all of the data about a person and create essentially a body double for them.

JOSH:
It’s not just about the robots. It’s about the additional information that we’re able to capture and able to deploy for figuring out, “Was that the optimal play? How else could it have gone? If these two teams were matched up against each other or if this player wasn’t injured, what might have happened?”

ROSE:
Or, Josh says, in this future, you could take on a robot replica of your favorite player. Or, I guess, your least favorite player, if that’s what you’re into.

JOSH:
But I can’t think of a much more immersive experience, short of playing with the actual athlete, than competing against an athlete mirrored perfectly in all of their metrics and getting to relive your favorite game or match.

ROSE:
When Josh was talking about this, I couldn’t stop thinking about a poll that I read that asked normal, civilian people if they thought they could score a point on Serena Williams. And let me just say, for the record, that the answer is no, you could not. But one in eight men believed that they could do this, that they could score a point on Serena Williams. Who, by the way, serves the ball at 128 miles an hour. And what I would honestly love is for every one of those men to line up and try it on one of these robots.

JOSH:
There’s absolutely a future in which these robots or these VR entities are displayed, and shared, and interactable with at similar types of businesses so that you could go and you could rent 15 minutes on a simulator. You could go and rent half an hour in VR with a VR treadmill to see how you stack up.

ROSE:
But here is also where I find this idea that we would sign up to compete against these robotic doppelgangers of our favorite players not that believable. Because it actually wouldn’t be fun. You would just lose really badly, every time. The other thing I realized is that if you did have a location where you could come and actually try to play, say, Serena, I would really love to know what the liability waiver you would sign would look like. Because if, on the off chance you happened to get your racquet on one of her serves, you would probably break your wrist.

JOSH:
But it would be enlightening. And I think that for the people who think that they could get a point on Serena, maybe it’s good for them to see that they can’t. Maybe it’s good for them to see the level of talent that these professional athletes really have.

ROSE:
But this could really be an incredible training tool for athletes.

JESSICA:
Because you get it, like, all the time in tennis, where there’s a really crafty left-hander, they very rarely… like Roger Federer, very famously would hire left-handers all the time to come train with him because Nadal gave him such problems. And so, that makes sense to me if you could actually recreate their actual, kind of, movement and the strategy with which they bring to the game.

BRENDA:
It’s like a sparring partner, right? The one thing is, there’s, like, a cottage industry of those people that would be sad to see them, you know, kind of go away.

JESSICA:
Absolutely. The only time I heard about these other tennis players was because they were brought in by Federer from wherever to be his Nadal.

ROSE:
And then there’s this interesting weirdness in the ways that the AI might wind up feeding back into players’ behavior on the court or the field. The video game Madden, for example, got really popular among NFL players at one point.

JESSICA:
Once the game became popular among NFL players themselves, they started to alter how they played the game in order to show up as a higher-ranked player in Madden. So you got this, like, weird way that the technology was actually changing the game on the field.

ROSE:
If you’re training against an AI or a robotic version of another team, would you wind up intentionally trying to introduce chaos or noise to mess up their system?

All of this is kind of fun to play around with, but at the same time, I can’t stop thinking about what Serena might think of the SerenaBot. Like, let’s say this is possible. Let’s say the technology gets good enough that I could take all of the footage from all of the games Serena Williams has ever played on TV, build a convincing digital twin of her, put that digital twin in a robot, and it looks like her, and it plays like her, and I’m able to do that. The question I have now is, should I be allowed to do that? At what point is there a legal question about replicating someone?

JESSICA:
I think Serena would sue people, don’t you? I would. That would be weird. So, yeah, that’s… like what you’re saying. Yeah.

BRENDA:
I think this is why we hate it, though. This is why… see? I’m already like, “Ew, I don’t want that to exist.” Like, there’s something about that that just takes away the uniqueness of who she is.

JESSICA:
It’s, like, too complicated then.

BRENDA:
Or, kind of like, gets too close at what I want… like, I want her specialness to stay just hers.

JESSICA:
And it’s also… Like, you’re just talking about, sort of, rudimentary… Yes, you can mimic the way she moves and possibly the choices that she makes in certain moments on the court.

BRENDA:
I bet you can get real close, yeah.

JESSICA:
But one of the things… and I want this to be true so do not argue with me, Brenda Elsey. Like, one of the things about great tennis champions is that she just gets better all of a sudden late in the match. And like, maybe you can program robots down to that degree, but I do think that part of it is being great in that moment, in front of a crowd, under the pressure, is a way that you just can’t… like, you couldn’t recreate that version ever, in practice, of Serena.

You know, it’s 5-5 in the third set and one of you is going to pull this out; the recreation of that exact moment, the thing that makes Serena great. It’s very hard for me to imagine that a robot could capture that, that you could actually make that into data that you could feed into something and make it happen. I don’t want to believe that that’s possible because I think that’s such an amazing part of why we love sports.

ROSE:
Sports have always been technical. Sports have always been about blending the latest science and technology with the human body. But if we go all in, if we go full robot… would anybody watch? Is that even still sports?

JESSICA:
Oh, I would watch so that I could talk about how much I didn’t like it.

ROSE:
That’s the question we’re going to grapple with when we come back.

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ROSE:
So, we’ve talked a lot about robots that might train beside us or maybe even replace us on the court one day; the ways robots are becoming more like humans. But what we haven’t talked about is the way that human athletes are becoming more like robots. One thing I found kind of interesting in reading about the robotics that are going on in the sporting space is the way in which engineers sometimes talk about human bodies.

JOSH:
Well, I think that there’s a lot of overlap between athletes and robots in many respects, right? And so, a robot is just a machine capable of carrying out complex tasks, and an athlete, at the end of the day… You know, we like to think of people as being richer and more textured than a machine capable of carrying out tasks, but an athlete’s job is to win the game, to come in first, to best their competition.

ROSE:
I don’t think Josh is being literal here, but I do feel like this kind of thinking from certain kinds of owners, and fans, and leagues is where some of the darker elements of technology and sports can arise. Technology is already becoming one with the players. From biometrics to sensors, to algorithms that inform their play and performance.

RAYVON:
So, what I mean by cyborg is, we are becoming this amalgam of human flesh, and technoscientific innovation that allows us to compete within sporting contacts in different ways. And that future is here, and it’s going to be very interesting for a lot of folks moving forward.

ROSE:
Every morning when Joe Choong, the reigning Olympic champion in modern pentathlon, wakes up, he has to log his biometrics in an app.

JOE:
So, every morning we have to fill in how many hours of sleep we got, rate the quality of sleep on a scale of one to ten. And all this data, like, gets put together over the years so they know roughly how much you’re recovering each night. And you also put in your training loads and how much effort you perceived it to be. So you’re always, like, not burning yourself out, burning your energy levels too much, but also not, sort of, going too easy in the training to sort of manage the optimum load.

ROSE:
Even figuring out his optimal pace for certain races is not done necessarily by feel or intuition, but technology.

JOE:
We have the… it’s like a VO2 max test on a treadmill. So they’ll hook us up to this treadmill, obviously they measure our speed. They’ll take a tiny amount of blood from your fingertip every three minutes or so, and you’ve got a mask on which is measuring the carbon dioxide intake, and oxygen intake, and like exhalations as well. So you’re measuring your lactic, your aerobic capability, and it basically just measures how fast you can run before you start to build up lactic acid and what your optimal base pace is. So that’s probably one of the most high-tech, like, bits of kit we use.

ROSE:
And that can definitely increase performance. But there is a potential dark side to all of this data, too.

JESSICA:
The first person I heard say this, and he probably wasn’t the first person to ever say this, was Ben Carrington. He talked about how athletes’ bodies are not… like, they are not healthy bodies most of the time because they are doing, like, way more stuff… like, engineering of their bodies in ways that are not healthy so that they can perform in very specific ways.

RAYVON:
But for me, I think where I’m concerned about the whole AI-driven training model is when athletes start losing a connection with their body. A couple of years ago, someone was talking about… I think STATSports was using the biometric tracker device where they wear these… They call them vests but they’re basically a sports bra with a little device in the back. And one person was talking to Mo Salah, and Mo was like, “Well, you know, I don’t really know how I’m feeling. You got to talk to the physio.” I’m like, “Wait a second. You played the game your entire life and you don’t know if you’re feeling good or feeling bad?”

I get concerned where, all of a sudden, the information, the biometric data that’s being pulled from these athletes’ bodies, is overriding one’s sense of how one feels, right? If you’re running, you know if you’re feeling good, right? If you’re playing sport, you know if you’re doing okay, right? You know if you’re feeling good. Like players, you watch them, everyone can see the players who know they’re doing well. And I don’t want the machine to say, “Well, you know, I think you need to throttle it back a bit,” and then the athletes will go, “Okay, I have to listen to the machine instead of listening to my body.”

ROSE:
For some Paralympic athletes, this reliance and trust in technology takes on a whole new meaning. So does the idea of innovation and technology making the difference between winning and losing. I will link to some pieces about Paralympians and their relationships with technology in the show notes.

These ideas of the cyborg athlete also come up when you look at technologies of repair and the fine line between repair and enhancement. Take LASIK eye surgery, for example, where you could have surgery to make your vision better than it was before. Or consider Tommy John surgery, which is a method of replacing a torn ligament in an elbow that some of the most famous pitchers in the world have gotten. There have been cases of young athletes who haven’t hurt their elbow asking for preemptive Tommy John surgery because they think it will make their throwing arm stronger.

RAYVON:
For me, I think what’s more troubling about it is that now you have surgical procedures that allow you to say, “I’m 10 years old. I might as well start throwing as hard as I can and blow up my elbow because I know there’s a procedure that will, in a sense, allow me to have it done one, two, maybe even three times and keep throwing and playing.” So what happens, from my perspective, is that all of a sudden we start disaggregating our bodies from the potential treatment, so we can abuse our bodies because we know there’s a system that will allow us to repair and put it back to normal. But that creates, for me, some really troubling implications about how we treat our bodies because we know that there’s a fix if we destroy it.

ROSE:
So often, fans and leagues expect athletes to kind of be like robots. To show up, and perform, and entertain, and be at their peak no matter what’s happening in the world or in their lives. Athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have recently highlighted the ways in which athletes are treated not necessarily like people but more like puppets or machines to be bought, and sold, and turned on when the time comes.

This is one reason why player’s unions exist, because the leagues and the coaches don’t always have their player’s bodies and minds at the forefront of their decision-making.

BRENDA:
I don’t think you can ask them to play against robots. I think their contracts are that they play against humans. What if they get hurt?

ROSE (on call):
Is that stipulated in their contracts? Humans against humans only?

BRENDA:
I’m sure it is. I mean, think about, like… What if somebody like Mbappé, right, or…

JESSICA:
Yeah, can you go up against a robot for a ball?

BRENDA:
Or Macário? These young players, right?

JESSICA:
How do you tackle a robot for a ball?

BRENDA:
The problem is, how does the robot tackle them without hurting them?

JESSICA:
Right, but if you’re sliding under them and your foot catches on a metal robot?

BRENDA:
Well, I guess they can make them humanlike by 2050, but still I don’t understand why it’s a goal, period. Like, what do you want it for? What do you want a team of robots for? Because they really want to bring glory to Robotlandia? Like, why?

JESSICA:
That is a good question: Why?

The reason we would have a match between robots and the team that won the World Cup is because FIFA would sign something that would force them to do it so that FIFA could get money and publicity because, yes, you’re right, in many ways, athletes are not, by whatever sporting organization they’re under, treated as if they are anything more than entertainment to make money.

ROSE (mono):
Which brings us back to RoboCup. Let’s say that they do succeed, whether in 2050, or 2070, or 2100, or some other year I can’t really even fathom… what happens next? Is the idea for robot soccer players to just take over the league? To form their own federation?

PETER:
Not really. That’s not a goal for me,

ROSE:
That’s Dr. Peter Stone again, head of the International RoboCup Federation.

PETER:
What usually happens with AI-versus-people kinds of events is that it might be a spectator sport, you know, for the event where, you know, “this is the time that the AI-based system is going to beat people.” But then, pretty quickly, a year or two afterwards, the computer is so much better than people that it’s not even interesting to watch computers play against people.

ROSE:
In fact, Peter says he wouldn’t actually watch a robot soccer league.

PETER:
For me, I like watching sports for the human element. And I would be sad if, you know, robots replaced people in all of the leagues. I don’t think it would be nearly as compelling or interesting to people. So no, I don’t think robot soccer is a threat to the, you know, international soccer industry.

RAYVON:
One of the questions I ask the students in my sports technology classes is: Should we just create two separate leagues? One for ‘anything goes’ and one, the natural league, whatever the natural is. And most of them are like, “No, I don’t want to watch the open league because I know what’s happening. I know it’s not about the players, it’s about all the other things.”

JESSICA:
Oh, I would watch so that I could talk about how much I didn’t like it, but I wouldn’t watch it thinking I was going to enjoy it.

BRENDA:
We would hate-watch it.

JESSICA:
I would only enjoy it if the humans won because I would expect robots to win if they were good enough to go up against humans.

BRENDA:
I mean, I would hate it. “I hate every second of what this is.”

JOSH:
And I think that that is probably going to be a bigger challenge for the sports industry to deal with, to figure out “How do we get people excited about this? How do we get people excited about AI versus AI?”

ROSE:
But Josh also told me that he thinks there could be ways to do the PR, and design, and AI right, to get people invested. Joe Choong actually agrees.

JOE:
I think it’s just… Like, if you take football, or soccer as you guys call it, and it’s just the emotional connection, isn’t it? Like Manchester United or whatever your favorite football team is. And if you had that same connection to a Manchester United football team made up of robots, then no. I think if it’s, like, a good level and it’s entertaining to watch, it would still be awesome to watch. Yeah, it’s just about supporting your team and wanting them to do well. So I don’t think it’s just limited to human involvement. No, I think robots could be a future form of sport as well.

ROSE:
And I think that this gets at a really interesting question that we’re going to grapple with throughout this mini-series about robots. Which is: What do we actually want from these machines? And what can’t they do, no matter how smart, agile, flexible, durable, and adaptable they are? Sports, I think, is a great example of a place where you might be able to design a really efficient, effective athlete robot. And maybe it could compete against the best. But would its performance really be… sports? Or maybe the real question is, would it scratch the itch that watching a live sporting event does for people?

RAYVON:
So, I teach a course on sports technology innovation and we just finished this last section on data. There are a lot of sports basketball fans, and I show the Kawhi Leonard shot, and I asked them, “If you’re writing the code for how a team should play, is that shot taken? Is that…” It doesn’t happen!

ROSE:
The play he’s talking about happened in 2019. The Toronto Raptors are playing the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s game 7, and the winner of this game will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The game is tied and there are four seconds on the clock, and the Toronto Raptors give the ball to Kawhi Leonard, who takes it into the corner and with a fraction of a second left goes up and takes this fade-away shot.

[clip from 2019 game]

Announcer: “… defended by Simmons… is this the tagger?! [game buzzer]

You can hear this pause after the buzzer, where the basketball is still bouncing off the rim, and it’s unclear if it’s going to go in or not. And then… it does.

[buzzer, followed by shouts and cheers]

Announcer: Game! Series! Toronto has won!

This is why we watch sports, right? For these moments of chaos, and magic, and excitement. For when Carli Lloyd looks up and puts a ball over the keeper’s head from fifty yards out. Or when Yolanda Griffith intercepts the ball and puts in the buzzer-beater. Or when a goalie like Alisson comes all the way up to the opponent’s goal and scores the game-winner in stoppage time.

But objectively, algorithmically, probabilistically, that Kawhi Leonard play makes no sense.

RAYVON:
That was a really poor decision. And yes, maybe the probabilities would’ve said, “Well, you know, he’s on fire right now; doesn’t matter, give him the ball.” But yeah, probabilistically, it wasn’t a good shot. It was a horrible shot. It went in and I would’ve given him the ball if I was the coach. But if I was a machine, a machine would have passed the ball. And I show the Kawhi Leonard clip because of its ridiculousness and its athletic beauty. And part of what that is, is the magic of humanity. And I think we’re a long way from the moment where AI can replicate, kind of, that random beauty of humanity.

JESSICA:
In tennis, it’s said that they will hit the ball down the line on a match point, and you’re just like, “That was… That felt insane to do in that moment,” because, like, literally three centimeters off and you have lost the entire thing. But they do it all the time and it works. And it’s like, “Oh, I want to believe that that’s a human thing.”

ROSE:
Now, Josh Siegel thinks that this kind of chaos is actually possible with robots. It just requires a little thing called “generalized AI.” The magical kind of AI that can do almost anything, just like a human can.

JOSH:
Generalized artificial intelligence is probably the hardest technical problem. That’s an area of research that’s been going on since the 1950s, and I feel like we’re not any closer to it than we were back then, no matter who may tell you otherwise. But I think once we get that, if we get that, you know, then the question is: What is sport? Why do we watch sports? What do we enjoy in them?

ROSE:
But, depending on who you ask, if we are in a world with truly generalized AI, we might have bigger questions than which robot soccer team to root for.

BRENDA:
I mean, look, if you can replicate these people exactly, you can replicate anything. You can do somebody like me that’s, like, junk compared to Serena. You’re going to know what I’m going to do, you know, on a daily basis. Like, I’m not surprising. I eat the same breakfast for like 40 years. I mean, I think… You know what I mean? Like, so if you’re going to take the best paragon of the human body, and intelligence, and the kind of way that they work with a repertoire in their head, and you can replicate that exactly, then you could do it all anyway.

ROSE (on call):
So what we really should do is train ourselves for the upcoming sports/war with the robots.

BRENDA:
Yes! Exactly, exactly. That’s where I’m going with this. We really need to think, you know, future-forward, this, in advance. We should start to organize against the robots that we have yet to create.

[Flash Forward closing music begins – a snapping, synthy piece]

Flash Forward is hosted by me, Rose Eveleth, and produced by Julia Llinas Goodman. The intro music is by Asura and the outro music is by Hussalonia. The episode art is by Mattie Lubchansky. The voices from the future this week were played by Richelle ClaiborneAiya Islam, Emma BracyBrett TubbsAshley KellemBrent RoseZahra Noorbakhsh, Henry Alexander KellyShara KirbyAnjali KunapaneniChelsey B CoombsTamara KrinskyKeith HoustonJarrett Sleeper. The theme music for X Marks the Bot is by Ilan Blanck. You can find out more about all of these amazing people in the show notes. Please do go check out their work.

And remember to head to FlashForwardPod.com to sign up for the show’s finale event. You can find a link to that in the little blog post about the end of the show. But don’t worry! We are still putting little references in our mini-season. If you think you’ve spotted one of them that we’ve hidden, you can email us there. It is your final chance to get a reference. If you are right, I will send you something cool.

If you want to discuss this episode, or some other episode, or the future in general, you can join the Facebook group. Just search ‘Flash Forward Podcast’ and ask to join.

It does feel a little weird still asking people to give the show a good review on iTunes, but it would be really great to go out with some nice words about the show in the reviews. So if you do like the show and you haven’t reviewed it yet, again, now is kind of your last chance.

Okay, that’s all for this future. Come back next time and we’ll travel to a new one.

[music fades down]

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