Humans have two fundamental abilities— physical and cognitive. Majority of today’s professionals— designers, doctors, lawyers, civil servants, scientists and software engineers derive their worth not from their physical ability, but from their cognitive capacity.
Industrial Revolution had rendered physical labour mostly irrelevant; Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution is now set to make our cognitive abilities redundant. Self-driving cars are on the cusp of taking over transportation, algorithms are gaining the ability to produce poems, compose music, draft news reports and translate literature books accurately. What if a sufficiently advanced AI gains enough power and dexterity to replace even doctors, engineers and scientists?
Even if such a scenario plays out, I believe sports and performing arts would remain insulated from an AI onslaught precisely because the appeal of both these fields stems from human performance. For instance, technological advancement in sports has provided modern athletes with scientific diets, better training and computer aids to devise the perfect game strategy, but the athletes themselves aren’t in any way different from say, marathon runners of classical Greece. We pay to watch these athletes perform and compete within the realm of human possibility and we steadfastly detest technology having an overbearing impact on the game. This is why FIA regulates car wingspan, ATP restricts racquet size and every sporting authority bans drug use.
I believe even with a supremely advanced AI, people would still come to watch an inferior, slower and less agile human species battling it out on the field, than watch two machines engage in a pointless duel. An AI doctor might be in greater demand for diagnosing cancer, but no one would want to watch an AI footballer dribble its way past humans and score a goal. Even in the game of chess, ever since IBM’s Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 1997, the supremacy of machines over humans remains undisputed, but there’s hardly any allure for AI chess tournaments.
Regardless of how intelligent and dexterous machines might become, sportsmen and performing artists will remain invaluable to our society. In a future world inundated by AI, I wouldn’t be surprised if the most popular aspiration among kids is not on becoming doctors or scientists but on becoming the next Lionel Messi.