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What will football be like in 2040, when artificial intelligence will be a reality and age will no longer have any significance?
Historically speaking, technology has always had a big impact on sports. From the introduction of Hawk-Eye in tennis, to the invention of the titanium driver in golf, science has brought about a series of significant improvements in the world of sport, which have sometimes become the root of radical changes. In the transition towards a future where everything will be technologically driven, there’s a possibility that the sport itself might become altogether obsolete. Moneyball and goal line technology serve as recent examples of modernisation, but overall sport has been extremely cautious in accepting change. Some technologies have of course represented progress in the world of football, but how will we react when faced with the possibility of hybrid humans, improved through biomedical engineering? Will sport survive the wave of ageless athletes?
You’ll probably be thinking of Highlander, and that this idea of future indestructible footballer doesn’t convince you. But the sci-fi dream of the 80’s is quickly turning into reality in the 21st century. Day after day he concept of eternity is becoming a clearer and more distinct possibility, at least in the opinion of English gerontologist Aubrey De Grey. In recent years De Grey has earned the status of guru in the field, for successfully predicting developments in the study of prolongation of human life expectancy. Leading the SENS Research Foundation, some of his recent discoveries are so groundbreaking they make the prospect of putting hair back on Alan Shearer’s head perfectly plausible. With the aim of making death due to aging a thing of the past, De Grey and his team have studied and implemented a series of procedures designed to prevent age related diseases like Parkinson’s. A lot of their work acts at a cellular level, preventing issues like the mutation of mitochondria.
Mitochondria are components within our cells, and they are responsible for the production of energy. Mutated mitochondria are far more common in elderly individuals, and when mutated, the production of energy becomes inhibited, which is one of the main causes of ageing. In short, De Grey’s method targets in replacing cells that fail to replace themselves. De Grey’s theories could come to fruition within the next few years, with massive repercussions on our lives. Experiments have already achieved consistent extension of lab rodent’s lives by 30%. According to De Grey, this means that the first person to live to a million years might already be alive today. Imagine your favourite footballer living on to eternity, playing on pitches that change in shape but are always stepped on by the same athletes.
Naturally, the risk is that should these therapies really work and become effective in 50 years, they will probably only be available to the more wealthy part of the population. And if the value of the Premier League continues to grow at the current rate, Norwich City FC might soon have a similar value to some of Europe’s major countries. Imagine super wealthy football clubs owned by oligarchs looking to invest in immortality rather than big money transfers: they would pick a player and make him last forever. Imagine Messi at the peak of his game for several decades, or Dybala forever beautiful and baby-faced, with perfect evergreen mitochondria. Top players always in top form, able to dribble on and on forever, gaining more and more experience as they go and hence also becoming better players, but never ageing. Of course, there would also be the mediocre players, and the media would complain about the lack of young talent emerging from youth teams. But how can that matter when everyone is always young!
But there’s more to it than just humans with no age and potentially everlasting life. Nanotechnology promises to make athletes resistant to all kinds of injuries, and 2040 is estimated to be the year in which science will create artificial intelligence. There’s no way of saying what the future holds for football, but in a reality where biological intelligence becomes less and less significant, the humanity of football would become more crucial than ever.
Ageless, indestructible, emotionless footballers. A collective technical improvement of incredible scale, made however almost superfluous by the very fact that it’s collective. A drone capturing images of a floating stadium filled with millions of hologram spectators who’s chants are projected by loudspeakers, while the physical spectator is sat at home on the couch, watching augmented reality holograms of Messi and Ronaldo chasing each other around his living room, facing each other yet again in a never-ending show-down to claim the throne of football. The Argentine runs on carbon fibre legs and is a few inches taller, while Cristiano moves like a perfect machine, as he’s always done after all.