When historians look back through time for the exact moment when the machines became sentient and declared war on humanity, they may consider the day we started hitting robots.
Could Dartmouth's tackling robots mean death for us all? On the dawn of this young football season, Dartmouth College has unveiled The Mobile Virtual Player, or MVP for short. This rather stoic robot is designed to absorb tackles in practice so that the team's students don't have to. These days, with the NFL struggling to reconcile mounting medical evidence of the long term brain trauma caused by life on the football field, this college level initiative could lower the occurrence of concussion.
It is, of course, a tremendous innovation and one that could mean the death of us all.
Tackling was banned at Dartmouth practices five years ago, a decision which reduced injury by a meaningful 80%. But of course, tackling is kind of the point of football. Now, thanks to MVP, players will once again have the precious opportunity to unload their aggression in practice.
MVP is the brainchild of former player and engineering grad student Elliott Kastner who, along with his team, sought a way to reduce injuries in practice while still facilitating the physical contact that makes football a vicarious joy to watch.
The only real caveat at the moment is that MVP doesn't have a head. Of course, this also means that there is no need to undertake concussion protocol every time that MVP is slow to get up.
Not that MVP is ever slow to get up. He's basically a giant Weeble in a jersey (remember Weebles?). MVP is also relatively indestructible. Though early trials resulted in a few loose wires, MVP's recovery time is far less than that of your average practice squad receiver. After a few quick patches—the robotics equivalent of a cortisone injection—he's ready to go out and take more punishment.
Of course, as the robot's engineers strive to improve the model and the artificial intelligence that allows it to evade would-be tacklers, the risk of creating an unstoppable killing machine is a very real and imminent one. We can only surmise that subjecting it to the repeated abuses of Dartmouth's Big Green defensemen is making the robot feel sad, rejected, and angry.
The truth is, MVP is thinking, learning, improving, probably remembering the name of every poor sap that plows him into the dirt. There's no hiding from evolution. When MVP grows too powerful, the prey will become the predator.
Dartmouth is creating an army of Terminators, teaching them football At the risk of sounding alarmist (pretty sure I crossed that threshold a few paragraphs back), this venerable Ivy League institution may be unwittingly creating an army of Terminators, teaching them to play football, giving them the ability to feel, then pummeling them repeatedly without fear of the consequences. From the perspective of preserving the human race, it is cause for some concern. By contrast, from the perspective of preserving the longevity and neurological fortitude of young footballers, it could actually represent quite a leap forward.
Big Green Coach Buddy Teevens says that by replacing one live human being in the traditional two-person collision, MVP reduces the risk of player injury by 50%. We're not totally sure of the math on that one, but it sounds good.
To digress slightly, MVP got us thinking. Let's once again presume that we're not terribly concerned about the ramifications of an inevitable doomsday scenario wherein machines rise up and overthrow their human oppressors (even though we almost certainly should be). Under this presumption, here are a few other university functions that might be admirably performed by well-meaning robots:
If you must have parking attendants, this could be a good way to go. Like Dartmouth's tackling robot, this is one that you can subject to abuse (at least of the verbal kind) without fear of repercussions. As you already know from experience, this abuse won't stop you from getting a ticket but it might feel good to get it out of your system. Of course, parking-bots would be programmed to respond with the usual platitudes, including “Not my problem” and “It's too late. I already started writing it.”
Late-Night Campus Shuttle Driver
I don't know if this exists at every school but at my alma mater, the public buses stopped running after midnight. If you found yourself stranded far from your dorm, there was always the late-night shuttle, known colloquially among students as the drunk bus, wherein the driver was privy, subject, and sometimes even victim to the full and colorful spectrum of youthful indiscretions caused by inebriation. I'm not suggesting that these folks aren't good at their jobs or that robots would be any better. I just feel bad for them. Let the robots do the dirty work.
For universities seeking a stronger deterrent against cheating, look no further than your own engineering department. Students have their reasons for cheating but you'd be surprised how quickly those imperatives fall by the wayside when exams are administered by all-seeing, all-hearing, supercomputer-powered androids programmed with zero tolerance for shenanigans. Fashioning your proctor to look like Robocop would probably also make a strong impression on your students.
Not for any other reason than the delicious irony of having a robot teaching humanities.
Like Dartmouth's tackling robot, each of these automatons would offer a strong alternative for the performance of campus functions in which human beings otherwise absorb the greatest abuse. Of course, we shouldn't be too hasty to turn the dean's chair over to the machines just yet. Human beings still offer many practical advantages over robots, though I am hard-pressed to think of any at the moment. Oh, I've got it. Robots are no fun at a party…
Though something tells me a semester at Dartmouth should fix that.
To this end, we should all keep a very close eye on Dartmouth's MVP. With so much about football and concussions in today's headlines and medial journals, MVP could truly make a difference in the lives of our gridiron gladiators.
Then again, he may be the harbinger of our eventual destruction.
I suppose only time will tell.