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Surprising Science

Would You Watch a Robot Olympics?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be enhanced by a concurrent skills competition between the world's top robots. Would a Robot Olympiad be a silly stunt or a major step for 21st-century technology?

What’s the Latest?


The machines have already started taking our jobs. Are they now after our sports as well? Who in the world will stop them?

We can probably count out Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who last week said he wants his country to host a robot skills competition alongside the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Whether Mr. Abe is in league with the machines is still to be determined, but it’s already apparent that the prime minister intends for the games to showcase Japan’s status as a leader in robotics and other futuristic technologies. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The conspiracy theorizing above is a joke, but Abe’s plan for a robot Olympics isn’t. Many outlets have reported that the prime minister intends to form a committee tasked with organizing the event. It’s too early to know what the competition will look like (Abe wasn’t exactly detailed in his declaration) but contests such as RoboCup and the DRC could potentially serve as models. As The Independent notes, Switzerland is set to host the first Cyborg Olympics in 2016.

More than just a sports showcase, the summer Olympic games are a worldwide television event that draws billions of viewers every four years. Could a competition that replaces flesh and blood with robotic parts ever invigorate audiences to any sort of similar degree? No one actually believes that to be part of Abe’s vision, but with robotics expected to take a huge leap in the 21st century it’s not too outrageous to think about just how far-reaching the technology can become. Still, it’s difficult to imagine a robot Olympics rivaling a human one 80 or 800 years from now, let alone the eight until Tokyo. Sports just don’t have as much appeal when sapped of the human drama.

One thing’s for sure: if the 2820 Fresno Olympics feature a robots competition, NBC will no doubt find a way to screw up its coverage.

Keep reading at Slate and IEEE Spectrum

Photo credit: Kjpargeter / Shutterstock


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