If the RoboCup organizers are smart, they'll set up robot vs. human matches in the next few decades, when the bots aren't so agile and their vision is still limited. That is, when human victory is still assured and the bots are still just a cute humanoid interest story. If they're really clever, they'll blur the line between human and nonhuman sports well before that. How about robot refs for improved accuracy in human games and robot coaches that can calculate optimal game plans? And why not have your team run scrimmages against robots that can match the skills and habits of your human rivals? It wouldn't be shocking if, by 2050, pro teams have the best-funded robo-sport programs.
Once robo-players start beating us on the field, there might be a bigger problem than players' unions striking because robot superstars are undercutting their contracts. What's to stop a team of robots that can best us on the pitch from deciding to fight us outside the stadium? Manuela Veloso, the head of CMU's MultiRobot lab and one of RoboCup's founders, thinks fears of robot rebellion are misplaced. "They only have to understand where's the ball, where's the goal, where are my teammates, where's the end of the field—not what's a house or what's a tree or what's anything," she says. "And that's why they'll be able to win."