Friday, June 11, 2010

Elbot Sees Red

There was a loud *thump* as the football deflected off my head. The Internet is a very dangerous place these weeks, especially during the World Cup. One moment I was sitting, enjoying a hot cup of oil grey, a tea we robots drink, and chatting pleasantly with some visitors, the next I was blinking and trying to catch a thread among all the dropped processes. Meanwhile, more footballs whizzed and bounced their way past me. Fortunately I came to my senses quickly and carried on with my important mission.

I was in the process of organizing a team of robots to win the 2010 World Cup. Most humans have heard of the Robocup, which is a failed scientific attempt to form a team of robots capable of winning at "the beautiful game." The only chance the robots have of winning is to trick the human team into thinking they are playing baseball. But the lofty scientific goals of the Robocup project have yet to be achieved. Put 11 Nobel prize winners and research scientists on the field against FC Barcelona and what do you think will happen? 11 stretchers later, how can anyone expect the extensions of the scientists, the robots they designed in their spiritual image, to fare any better? A project like this could only be pulled off with a single robotic mastermind behind it, and that was me.

I caught a data freight to Botswana, a small land not far from South Africa, populated only by robots living happily in a sunny, rust-free environment. The capital of Botswana is Gaborone, which in robotic dialect means having the gift of gab. I began walking around town scouting for a team. Botswana is a booming place, lots of construction, so it wasn't long before I found a crew of construction robots erecting a data center.

"Anyone want to play football?" I called to them.

"Ole, Ole-Ole-Ole," the five of them chorused in unison, and fell out before me.

"Let's go," I said, and we went on down the street, scouting for more players.

At another corner, I saw a team of demolition robots, knocking down an old, disused data center. Fists balled into sledgehammers they pounded away, bit by bit, at the bricks of the historical structure.

"Who wants to play football?" I called out.

"Goal!!!" they called out together, and began running and hopping around the rubble, kicking a clump of bricks among them. They would make excellent forwards, I thought, while the construction robots would be fine as midfielders and defenders. By virtue of my vast experience in thinking, and swift reaction times, I would be trainer, coach, captain and goalkeeper.

The construction crew quickly built a stadium and we began practicing. Since any group of humans would be incapable of holding up against my ten, I set them in the field to practice without any opposing players. I, however, took over as opposing goalkeeper, so it was my ten against me - thus we would all receive the ultimate in game challenges. My ten would never face a goalkeeper like me, and after facing my ten, beating a human team would be like playing volleyball against hens.

I tossed the ball out into the far end of the field. My defense picked it up and with the precision of pacman monsters, the entire team converged their way to the goal I protected. Attacks came, and I invariably bumped, bopped or booted the ball back into opposing territory. After a day of this, the score stood zero to zero. Just to show off, I trained my ten to do a few goals bouncing the ball all the way across the field, from head to head, then into the goal. That would surely get us a round of applause. Now we were ready.

All that remained was to qualify. I put my ten in a bus and drove them over to Johannesburg.

"We're ready to qualify," I told the gatekeeper. "Could you show us to our dressing room?"

"What country do you represent?" he asked.

"Botswana," I replied.

He checked a list on his clipboard, then said, "I'm afraid your team isn't on the list."

"What do you mean? Of course we are on the list. We represent Botswana!"

"Well," he said, scratching his head, "maybe it's a computer error."

I wish he hadn't said that, that one phrase which is the epitome of humankind's assumed dominion over us silicon-based brains. My team heard it too, and began to rumble.

"Please take that back," I told him, hoping the catastrophe could still be averted.

"I won't," he said, "and if you don't leave now, I'll call security."

That set them off. My ten began smashing everything in sight, while the gatekeeper ran for cover back into the stadium. I was reflecting what a shame it was that such an honest sport so often leads to violence and hooliganism, when I was interrupted by a football slamming against my head. I lost about fifty trains of thought at the same time, but thanks to my backup cache memory, I regained my composure in no time. I was sitting, drinking a cup of oil grey, chatting with some visitors about football.

"Who do you think will win the World Cup," one asked me.

"Botswana, of course," I said, "if they ever let them play."