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Sunday, September 26, 2004

Robothon 2004

Imagine going back 250 years in time with your laptop computer and showing Voltaire how to do research on the internet. As earth-shattering as that experience would be for the French titan of the Enlightenment I can think of something that would have a more profound effect on modern day scientists. Star Trek never ventured to put forth an episode dealing with the phenomena of which I am thinking. That would be too far-fetched even for the dorky new Star Trek. Technology has made tremendous strides in the past 50 years but this development isn’t even on the horizon. Robots will never teach gym class.

Think about it. You can get a PhD through a correspondence course. There are books on tape, video instructional methods for just about everything, but you cannot replace a gym teacher with a machine. I think back on the mind-numbingly complex tasks performed by my seventh grade gym teacher, Mr. Piles. First, he had to ascertain what season of the year it was to know the corresponding ball to throw out into the prison yard. After that he had to sit in his chair and read the sports section of the paper and whatever comics his mind was capable of absorbing. Do you really think that you could program some machine to do that?

I mention this because I am sitting at the Seattle Center watching Robothon 2004, a robotics festival for the whole family--assuming that your whole family is made up entirely of middle-aged, white males with bad haircuts. I fall into that category myself so I have to write this essay in a hurry and get the hell out of here before somebody sees me.

I can’t knock these guys too much because without a bunch of dorks who spend their Sundays indoors jerking off at a robotics festival, I wouldn’t have this wonderful laptop computer. If left to the likes of my underachieving ilk, civilization wouldn’t have paper, let alone a pen to write with. This is the division of labor that is necessary to build an advanced society. You have the people who create the technology that makes all of our lives easier and more fulfilling, and the people like me who make fun of those other people because they wear sandals with socks. Both elements of society are of equal importance and without one of them the world would be an uncivilized hellhole.

The world also needs gym teachers; not to teach us about physical education but to teach us about natural selection. Why bother teaching kids about evolution in biology class when they just spent the previous hour in gym learning first-hand about survival of the fittest? After an hour of playing tackle football against kids who have been held back for the past three years in the seventh grade, the concept of a benevolent deity is going to be a pretty tough sell, and you can forget about creationism. The flip side of the adage, “There are no atheists in the foxhole,” says that there are no seventh graders who still believe in God after having the wind knocked out of them by a kid named Butch Taylor who outweighs them by fifty pounds. Butch can also legally drive a car.

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