“It’s an imperfect game and has always felt perfect to me,” Joe Torre said when asked about the likely ascent of robot umpires in the MLB. I’m no great fan of Torre’s, but he’s right. The gradual creep of artificial intelligence into the more wiggly areas of our lives is a dangerous thing. We’re already knee-deep in an age of mass surveillance, and now we’re seeing the intrusion of robots more visibly in the “fun” parts of being a human. Baseball is a game! It’s a deeply human exercise, and there’s no room for the boring algorithmic definitions of robots in it. Imperfection is what we humans do best. Along with our own struggles to remedy the ongoing climate crisis, I think this is going to be the major narrative of the century: a conceptual fight against AI’s apparent accuracy and efficiency. In its own way, this is a new form of extinction event. It starts with umpires—a likely target. Then it comes for all of us.
I fully realize that we find ourselves even now wriggling in the web of AI’s influence; it’s partly to blame for you stumbling onto this nonsense I’m writing in the first place. But it’s going to become more overt. It’s a homogenizing force, one that would see us all defined easily by 0s and 1s. Trackable metrics in place of human interests. The same jokes. The same clothes. The same thoughts. The vast field of “right” and “wrong” will be diminished to a binary that some teeming set of code will define for us. There’s a lot of money backing this shit, too, and a lot of toadies in positions of power ready to implement new technology. “It’s going to be more accurate, it’ll reduce controversy in the game, and be good for the game,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. Or should I say: ROBOT MANfred. See? Good for the game! I would ask: Whose game are we playing now?