New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along! – Arthur C. Clarke
I’ve been inspired to write this multi-part series by many a twitterfight with fellow fans that are in my opinion not looking at the whole Arsenal vs. the world in the wrong light – we need to look at Arsenal’s place in the future as well as in the here & now. If you haven’t read the first three pieces then please click here, here and here as what’s to follow will make much more sense with the correct backdrop. Again I’d like to reiterate that I’m not here to argue about whether any of this is good or bad, nor is anything I’m saying to be used as a Wenger we trust/rust argument – I am simply stating the facts in a timeline as I see them and understand them. Now with that as a backdrop let me get a few things out of the way so that I may write clearly for the rest of this piece: OK so Na$ri won a trophy first – he’s still a cunt.
I have to say this is the bit I’ve been really looking forward too because I can use all the wackiness of my work persona and transfer it to football. This is where I get to have little fun, because I have a window into tech stuff that’s going to change the world… seriously. The Internet of everything, embedded systems, cyberism, augmentation, social separatists, human evolution itself. Have any of you heard of the singularity? Homo-evolutis? If you’re vaguely interested in the topic then take a look at this excellent TED presentation (Technology Entertainment Design) as it goes further into the driving forces behind these developments then I’m going to, anyone that doesn’t want to nerd out then don’t (it’s 18 mins long), I’m going to try and give you an overview here and relate it to the beautiful game.
We’re in control of evolution now.
As anyone that’s been to an old building somewhere in Europe, China, India or any of the ancient civilisations knows, humans are getting bigger in general. Go to the Tower of London and try to walk through the doors without nailing your face on a lintel. Modern technology, medicine and knowledge are all allowing us to live longer and more completely and modern dietary habits are having other side effects such as obesity as we have more time to spend, well…eating. The point is that whatever your views on Science & Technology, they’re changing everything you see, touch and interact with and you cannot stop it, it’s happening now, all around the world and it’s happening FAST. Kind of stupid to say seeing as you’re reading this courtesy the interwebs which is mankind’s latest toy, but it needed to be said. OK – with that as a baseline; what’s next?
Handicap or augmentation?
The interesting thing about this particular path of thought is about the convergence of medical technologies, processing power and artificial intelligence. You’ve seen those Para Olympic athletes, you know the runners with those carbon fibre blades as feet right? Well as you’re probably aware technological systems (think smart phones, computers, etc.) evolve at a far greater rate than biological systems (you, me, the cat, etc.) are able to. So, the runner we mention will continue to have his blade technology upgraded, improved upon and eventually, inevitably his ‘handicap’ will stop being a ‘disability’ and will become an ‘augmented ability’; he will surpass the abilities of the best athletes and note that I’m not saying ‘maybe’ this is a certainty, it’s not if; it’s when. Sooner or later, we will see this happen. Look at an ACL injury in football: 30-40 years ago that was career ending, now it’s a relative annoyance lasting 9 months! THAT IS MASSIVE. Frimpong has done BOTH ACL’s! This was an unheard of injury in the 70’s/80’s, because if you fucked one that was it, game over. Now add that medical know how to solid state technologies (chips, memory, processing, sensors etc.) and you get the Six Million Dollar Man… Well not quite yet, but you are getting people having ELECTIVE surgery to have smart prosthetics take their place – take a look at this 10 min story. Now to put this in context, think of your cell phone today, be it iDrone, Undroid or Crackberry then try to imagine it’s predecessor of 20 years ago, it looked like a brick with an antenna. No voicemail, no texting, no cameras, no games, social networking, internet etc. Simply put it was a phone and only a phone. Your phone now is way more than just a phone; it is more powerful by several orders of magnitude then all the computing power it took to get man to the moon. Now that you have this as point of reference, add that same technological evolution to things like prosthetic arms, blade feet/prosthetics, artificial hearts, brain implants etc. and you might get the drift of where I’m going with this.
From Super-athletes to Cyber-athletes
There was an excellent Puma commercial not too long ago where all these superstars had their torso’s superimposed to robotic kangaroo looking legs. This to me was actually fairly prophetic, in actual fact the date in the ad of 2178 is too far out in my opinion. I could see this happening by 2050. You see we already have hip replacements, knee replacements, we insert metal plates and screws to support broken or weakened bones when does this sort of thing stop being a liability and become an advantage? Then what happens? When one player has the advantage and another ‘natural’ player does not? Sounds like science fiction right? Well so was the self driving car until Google’s self drive got its driving licence earlier this year. Technology and its impact on sports is frightening, because its impact on society at large is frightening. We will face many challenges adapting to this new reality because whereas there are of course advantages such as the potential to completely banish things like paralysis, they ask moral questions of us all. There are already exoskeleton legs that can help people walk again after losing the use of their legs and that isn’t shit compared to what the military have and bear in mind, anything you see on the web like this is probably old tat compared to what they have behind closed doors. This is just the hardware, as I’ve mentioned before this is not to mention the medical advances. Anyone that watched Muamba collapse a few months back can’t help but be amazed he’s still alive now thanks to some quick thinking medical assistance, but it’s shocking to think they are looking at ways of getting him playing again! He was clinically dead for what, 78 minutes? I’ve read they want to implant a defibrillator, you know a miniaturised version of the big paddles they use in hospitals; so if he has a heart attack while playing again, he can instantly get zapped. That’s fucking unbelievable! The fact that more people aren’t completely gobsmacked by this is testament to the fact that we are all so used to the ‘miracles’ of modern technologies that they’ve become a bit ‘meh’. Look at Abidal at Barca; it’s already amazing that he’s been playing again after his cancer treatment, but now he’s going in for a liver transplant and already there’s talk of him playing after that. That’s heading distinctly Dagenham!
So what do these amazing advances mean for the game? Well at the moment no one would call a heart pace-maker or embedded defibrillator an augmentation, they are helping people to avoid a repeat of a heart attack. However it’s not beyond the realms of thinking that one day soon they could replace the heart altogether. At first this would be a disadvantage because you’d need to carry a big battery with you, although obviously it’d be better than the alternative (pushing up daisies), but again looking at the cell phone analogy and taking that trend of shrinking in size & explosion of functionality as the rule of thumb – inside 20 years an artificial heart will be able to pump blood around the body better then a human one. Then you face tough questions: Does this person have an advantage? What if they can pump blood to muscles at twice the efficiency and not get tired? If so is it fair that he/she play against un-modified players? These are real questions that will split opinions the same way that performance enhancing drugs do today – steroids; pah! How about a genetically modified type of stomach bacteria that can metabolise calories twice as fast, or some kind of embedded lactic acid buffer? Artificial lungs with twice the oxygen/nitrogen capacity? Before the robo-legs thing is even a concern we’ll have to deal with this sort of technology.
Watching the game.
Anyone that’s been to a match knows that watching it on TV is a completely different experience to being at the ground; however with 3D TV’s and numerous cameras springing up this experience is bound to change radically. There are numerous GPS, biometric systems and miniaturised camera systems already available and while presently they are bulky and not really usable in match conditions, again using the exponential nature of technology this will not remain the same for long. So what am I suggesting here? Well already in sports like motor-racing and the like you have info-graphics on fuel, systems, and other information of that nature. Any F1 fans will have seen the KERS/DRS (kinetic energy recovery system/drag reduction system) graphics that give the viewer a little more insight into what the drivers are doing, the in-cockpit and new ‘helmet’ cams give us a new appreciation for the drivers skills and how much hard work it is to control a car weighing a few hundred kilos with 800bhp on tap (plus squirts of 80bhp with KERS). Watching a 160mph powerslide is freakish in slow motion but only takes a millisecond of real time. In the USA where the game called football is played by 300lb monsters ‘soccer’ is seen as a bit of a sissy sport, one just for girls. That changed radically at the last World Cup with all the super-slow-motion footage of ankles folding in half, of guys getting flipped over, flying elbows in the faces & heads clashing. Suddenly many stopped thinking of it as sissy and started taking it more seriously from the physical perspective. The way the game is portrayed on TV effects how people perceive the game itself.
So how does this equate to future football coverage? Well, think of the FIFA console/computer games. You know those ‘life meters’ that the players have over their heads? Well there’s no reason to think that in 20+ years the technologies to measure; heart rate, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, endorphins, brain activity etc. would be small enough to be injected in to a player’s bloodstream and could wirelessly transmit this data to our TV screens. Not good enough? Well how about player-cam? No, not a camera that follows the player; a bionic eye implant or contact lens that transmits pictures from their perspective allowing you to see what Robin sees as he smashes another amazing shot past a hapless goalkeeper. Think I’m bullshitting? Watch this – it’s already a reality. These technologies will change the way we watch, talk about and even think about the game. Discussions about ‘lazy’ players could become discussions about ‘not as fit’ players, or that they had a piss up the night before and buggered up their blood chemistry. Or how about; “it’s amazing that X player managed to run 70 yards when his blood-sugar was down to 95mg/dL! wOOt!!” Player Medicals would radically alter with everything being known from a genetic level, you could sequence a players genome and know at what age they’re going to slow down… how their bones will mature, if they will have illnesses etc. What effect would that have on the transfer market, player values, players careers?
It all sounds mad right? Well futurism is a very difficult topic but everything I’ve written about above is either in research phase or early prototype now… this is not science fiction anymore, you and I will see this technological explosion in our lifetime – no, maybe not your jet-pack or your flying car – instead how about a robotic body with your brain in it? How about when your body dies your personality is ‘saved’ digitally and you can download yourself a-la the Lawnmower man onto the web? It might sound crazy but somewhere out there are men & women making it happen, I have seen a lot of it with my own eyes and it still makes my jaw hit the ground.
Anyone not sufficiently creeped out by the above that wants to know more can send me a message via this site and I’ll send you a reading list.
I hope you enjoyed this trip into my weird world & perspectives on football. It’s been said a few times that I’m not a typical football supporter and whereas that may be a valid theory never fear I’ll be back to my sweary self in the next piece. Until next time…