Plummer Cobb is a writer and communications consultant based in Arlington, Texas.

Game Set Match

It was the most anticipated tennis match in the history of tennis. And robotics.

Project Yellow Ball had begun seven years earlier after the most recent leap forward in robotics and artificial intelligence. When developers were looking for a way to test the new iterations of these new bots, they turned to sports.

Unlike previous experiments with social interactions, the rules and physical interactions of sports were much more defined, goals more clearly determined, and outcomes more easily assessed.

After considering many other options, tennis turned out to be the right fit. The relatively small court area, the definable range of techniques, and the general game play all made for desirable parameters. Developers programmed robot players with the rules and responses, and the experiment began.

The first rally was unexciting, to say the least. Think “Pong” on a very slow setting. Still, the bots performed as programmed and everything built from that moment.

The AIs studied and learned from recordings of some of the greatest players in the history of the game. Movements became more fluid. Response times improved. Speed, power, and accuracy increased. Human players matched up against the bots found themselves first challenged, then overwhelmed.

That was when the real challenge came. An exhibition match was scheduled for players Red Bot and Blue Bot.

Tickets for the event sold out in seconds.

The developers felt confident that the bots would put on an impressive show. Already, each bot could immediately process the movement of the other, predict the trajectory of the ball, and respond accordingly. The bots began to anticipate not just one or two moves ahead, but dozens.
The developers were thrilled. The match would be one for the history books.

The big day came, and the arena was packed. The players took to the court. The crowd cheered. The bots “smiled”, waved back, and took their places.

Blue Bot was to serve first. It held the tennis ball in one hand, the racket in the other. Its AI processors calculated its first serve, predicted Red Bot’s response, calculated its own response to that, and so on, and so on.

Neither bot made a move, nor did either hit a single ball. Scores flashed up on the board.

Blue Bot won in four sets.

The game had been won in a millisecond, every stroke played out in the bots’ AI processors.

Quietly, everyone stood up and left.

A Tempting Offer

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