Sunday 30 April 2017

Joe Brolly: We must act now to halt march of the Gaelicbot

'Players are more or less robots harnessed into a life style system that is not suited to human beings and their complex needs'
'Players are more or less robots harnessed into a life style system that is not suited to human beings and their complex needs'

Joe Brolly

Human beings are in trouble. The notion of independent individuals thinking for ourselves and being able to express ourselves in a real way is under sustained attack. Robots are replacing us at an alarming rate. They are highly efficient, don't sleep, obey their masters, and don't drink or smoke. They don't want to make love or war and they are entirely unemotional. They don't get tired. They are absolutely punctual.

The Australian company Fastbrick Robotics has developed a robot called the Hadrian X. Presumably it is named after the Emperor Hadrian, who built a wall across Britain when Donald Trump wasn't even a glint in his father's eye. Hadrian's Wall was roughly 80 miles long and took six years to build. Just one Hadrian X, meanwhile, can lay 1,000 standard bricks in a single hour. Which would take two top notch brickies a full day.

Walk into a McDonalds in America now and you are increasingly served by very pleasant "Have a nice day sir" robots. It might not be such a nice day for the human staff that are being laid off by the thousands, but the burgers are stacked neater than lego.

At MIT, a management robot is learning to run an entire factory, and to give complex orders to workers (fellow robots of course). They have also developed a robot that can bake and cook like a Michelin Starred chef, whipping together cakes and puddings and cooking them to perfection in the oven. The University of California at Berkeley, meanwhile, has built a highly efficient laundry robot. It does the laundry, then neatly folds the t-shirts and towels. How much is it?

Or what about 'Tally'? Not Paddy the football man from Galbally, but Simbe Robotics one-stop store shelving solution. Or as Simbe describe it, "the world's first fully autonomous shelf auditing and analytics solution."

This computerised dude roams supermarket aisles and other stores alongside "human shoppers" during regular business hours and ensures that goods are adequately stocked, placed and priced. I was on the tear in Tally's Bar in Galbally some years ago and they could be doing with one.

No one is safe. Before footballing farmers sink back complacently into their armchairs after a day's milking, and say "It'll never happen to us", they might like to check out the Milkbot. This is not to be confused with the milk maid at the South Belfast bar of the same name. Swedish agricultural equipment manufacturer DeLaval International recently announced that these new cow milking robots are being deployed at a number of farms, including a dairy farm in Westphalia, Michigan.

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The system allows cows to come and be milked on their own, when they please, by robots with "composite devices more sensitive than the human hand." More sensitive than the hands of footballing farmers? I don't believe a word of it.

The effect of all of this is going to be disastrous for humans, save for the wealthy ones. The World Economic Forum recently predicted that robotic automation will result in the loss of more than five million jobs across 15 developed nations by 2020. A comprehensive study conducted by the International Labour Organization has concluded that as many as 137 million workers across Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam - approximately 56 per cent of the total workforce of those countries - are "likely to be replaced by robots within the next decade."

Gaelic football is ahead of the curve. We already have the Gaelicbot. This human replacement program began around a decade ago and is at a very advanced stage. As Kieran Shannon put it last Sunday in the course of the newspaper review on Off the Ball, we are in an era where players are treated as "chess pieces, not individuals." It is an enormous issue.

Extraordinarily controlling regimes have become the norm. Players are more or less robots harnessed into a life style system that is not suited to human beings and their complex needs. At the University of Limerick, the Psychology Department describes it as "overcommitted amateur syndrome." Dr Tadhg McIntyre, who has railed against this, calls Gaelic footballers and hurlers "overcommitted amateurs" and has written vividly about the damage this is causing.

In the quest for victory above all else, with no heed for the spectacle or the quality of life of the players, it is spreading to the clubs as well. The St Brigid's, Dublin, senior footballers' contract that was leaked last week is merely another example of how we have completely lost all sense of proportion. The contracts (which must be signed before the player can participate in training or matches) include a lengthy check list of terms that would not be out of place in a cult. Samples are:

I will respond to all notifications on teamer

All holidays will be agreed in advance with management and only taken during breaks in the season (they might have added, "whenever these breaks may be")

All team events are compulsory

I will attend all club matches, whether I am playing or not, unless I have the prior permission of management

I will congratulate my team mates chosen on match days if I am not in the starting fifteen

I will bring a positive attitude and influence to this group

The conclusion reads "Player: I have read this player/coach contract and I understand it. I will honour it and comply with all the rules stated above. I understand that failure to do so will mean my removal from the senior panel."

"I will congratulate my team mates chosen on match days if I am not in the starting fifteen," reminds me of fresh faced kids smiling through their braces and repeating "I solemnly pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America." It is symptomatic of a wider disease in society that I have railed against and is nothing more than false superficiality.

It is a terrible indictment of the GAA leadership that ordinary members have had to come together to form a club players' association, given that the health of the clubs is supposed to be the main job of the GAA. The official launch last week caused the GAA to react in the normal way it does to anything that accords with our founding principles. An embarrassed silence.

If, on the other hand, it had been a launch of some sort by SKY (The pay GAA channel no one watches) or another of their "commercial partners" they would have been falling over each other to get in the photo. It is ironic that at the moment the life blood of the Association finally stood up, the GAA's "lifeblood of the Association" rhetoric suddenly dried up.

The CPA has its work cut out. The clubs now are more or less treated as conveyor belts for the county. From the age of 13, the best players are taken out and put into fitness and lifestyle regimes borrowed from professional sport. No surprise that players are dropping like flies from overuse injuries. Cruciate ligament tears, hip injuries, ankle injuries and the like are a normal part of the system. Development squads from under 13 onwards are turning fun and self expression into dull, repetitive, work.

I was at an underage development squad presentation recently and came away depressed at how it intruded into every aspect of the lives of our young men. This is not an attack on the coaches who gave the presentation. It is a reflection on the 'group think' and robotification of the game that has become the norm.

The CPA should start by rounding up those player contracts and burning them. It is as good a place as any to begin the revolt against Gaelicbot.

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