Replacement (Refs? Even more?)

It is interesting to consider how the economy and workforce will change as technology evolves.  I love watching sports, so I am especially intrigued with the debate of automated officials.  The argument for automated officials is increased accuracy.  If the sports have an intermediate solution where every single play in question is reviewed by computers, then the game would be slower, but less controversy and dispute over plays.  The ideal solution would appear to be that sports officiating were able to go fully automated in real time, which would likely require new technology.  However, this would remove a human element from the game.  One could say that if the goal is precision and accuracy, then the players themselves should be replaced with robots.  What makes sports so exciting is that nothing is precise or can be predicted due to human behavior, so removing human officials would be a step away from the natural human aspect of the game.


The end of the Falcons-Lions game would not have been so controversial if a machine had gotten the non-touchdown call right the first time.  With automated officials, people would not have complained about the outcome of the game or complained about the infamous Seahawks-Packers game with the replacement referees a couple of years ago.  Theoretically, automated officials would eliminate all complaining and controversy about calls from players, coaches, and fans, but people would probably still find something to complain about in the game.  Complaining is part of the game.  Players pout and/or put on a show to the referees in attempt to get calls to go their way.  While human officials are imprecise, I think that they are as part of the game as the imperfect human players who cannot always hit extra points in football or layups in basketball.


I wonder how the job economy will change in the next couple years under the influence of technology and increasing automation.  I am interested to see how the Amazon and Whole Foods relationship plays out in terms of automation in the food industry.  While there is certainly merit in human interaction at stores, would consumers be willing to pay extra for humans operating stores while machines could do the job at lower cost and arguably higher efficiency? While philosophers and the public debate such issues, the drivers of the decisions may be out of our control and instead centered on companies’ monetary agenda.


  1. Mike Smith

    September 26, 2017 @ 1:54 pm


    I’ve also watched the ever expanding influence of automated replay and precise officiating with great interest and, for me, amazement. Much of what you say resonates with me, but I like to put it more simply: Is the purpose of sports to win or to play?

    I’d like to think we play the games for the joy of them. Unfortunately, that’s probably no longer true at the highest levels, and I don’t completely understand why. It probably still doesn’t matter which team wins a game — like you say, people will complain about the outcome no matter what. Certainly the owners and advertisers make money no matter who wins or how precise the officiating is. It is not even clear to me that it matters to the players, since you can tell who the best players are (i.e., who should be paid the most) even in the face of an infrequent bad call. If we eliminated the financial bonus that goes to the players that win, I can’t think of why winning matters beyond false pride. Happy to hear from those that disagree.

    So, what happened? Have we forgotten that referees exist simply to put an impartial judge on the field of play so that close calls are resolved quickly and the game can rapidly begin again. Why? Because the purpose of the game is to play, not sit there and argue. If impartiality is the goal, you can certainly get that from an automated system. You don’t, however, need it to be precise and infallible. Why not make it fast and less precise?

    Of course, I’m simply old fashion. People make decisions quickly and imprecisely. So why do we need to replace them?

    On your comments about stores, I don’t see this as an either-or decision, at least right now. I think both kinds of stores might exist. Some that are automated, fast, and maybe cheaper. Others that are personalized, slow, and maybe more expensive. This range certainly exists today.

    Thanks, Matty!

  2. cindizzle4

    September 27, 2017 @ 1:21 am


    Being a fencer (and due to the fact that fencing is not a lucrative sport), I feel like I have a biased view on how sports should be officiated. In my sport, we have video replays: if the fencer believes that the referee made a bad call, they ask the referee to consult the video with another referee, and the call can be switched. Using technology as an aid, video replay eliminates a lot of the human error in officiating. I don’t think this takes away from the sport of fencing at all; in fact, I think it is much better this way, as it keeps the integrity of the sport intact. It’s extremely interesting for me to see the differences in the very nature of sports when lots of money is involved, and then the relationship it forms with technology in officiating. I personally don’t agree that the complaining/arguing and imprecise calls are part of the game, particularly through the lens of the athlete; I think what makes the athletes okay with it is due to the money they earn regardless of good/bad calls, which Prof Smith mentioned in his comment too. I do agree that people should play sports for the joy of it, but in order to achieve this I think it’s essential for the integrity of the rules to be maintained, regardless of how it will affect the finances/politics of the sport. But there are so many problems involving sports agencies and networks and that is a conversation for another time 🙂 Nice post!

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