As we celebrate the historic milestone of Super Bowl 50, I can’t help but wonder about the future of football. The “inconvenient truth” of Will Smith’s movie “Concussion” — about the festering issue of CTE brain injury — is just the latest revelation about the dark side of football that plagues the NFL. The long-term effects of concussions have caused former players to sue, promising rookies to retire, and many parents to discourage their children from playing the sport. A recent Time magazine cover story about the death of a high school football player entitled 'Is Football Worth It?' makes one wonder how long before we, as a society, reach a tipping point? Will there be a Super Bowl 100?
Having written the sci-fi novel ULTRA BOWL — about an NFL team that’s “time-napped” into the future — I’ve thought a lot about the issues facing football. I believe a strong argument can be made that concerns about football’s health-hazards combined with our economy’s increasing reliance on technology and robotics will result in profound changes to the game. If there’s a Super Bowl 100, there’s a good chance it’ll be played by robots.
Robot football isn't as far-fetched as it seems, but rather a logical extension of many of today's trends in our increasingly automated, AI-enabled world. Robots drive our cars, fly our planes, grow our food. What won't they be doing 50 years from now? Technology has allowed us to outsource many aspects of our lives. Computers and apps increasingly do our thinking, Google our remembering, Facebook and Twitter our socializing, and drones our fighting. Eventually, we may outsource the violence in football to robots.
Here’s how it could happen. As the world economy becomes increasingly dependent on robotics, Corporate America will realize that robot football is the perfect marketing vehicle. If the Super Bowl is now the most prized, viewed and expensive ad space, a football game played by robots, showcasing the latest technological advances, will be one big ad. The game's point-spread could determine tech supremacy and ultimately market share. It’s not hard to imagine how decades from now the financial interests of Wall Street might combine with a growing segment of Main Street — for whom football is too violent — to make robot football not only plausible, but probable.
And I’m not alone. In Two Minute Warning: How Concussion, Crime, and Controversy Could Kill the NFL,veteran sports journalist Mike Freeman ends his book by quoting me at length on the possible future of robot football.
So next time you see the Fox Sports’ NFL mascot “Cleatus the Robot,” ask yourself: Is Cleatus a harbinger of things to come? It’s hard to imagine our NFL “gladiators” not going head-to-head on any given future Sunday, but keep in mind ethat 2,000 years ago the mighty Romans believed that their gladiators would still be fighting to the death today.
Why, you might ask, should the speculations of a sci-fi author be taken seriously? Since the late 19th century, when Jules Verne wrote about submarines in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” writers have tried to imagine what tomorrow might look like. In many cases, they were right: credit cards, radar, solar power, voicemail, flat-screen TVs, virtual reality, even atomic bombs were first imagined by science fiction writers. Who knows, I may be one of them.