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Bounce. Bounce. Thwack!

The sphere spun and arced into the very corner, sliding on the white paint.

Roger’s racquet slid beneath, slicing it deep to John’s body.

Thus, the match began.

Fierce debate had been waged about whether or not to allow external communication devices during on-court play. Eventually, arguments won that external communicators constituted the same inexorable march of technology represented by the evolution from wooden racquets to aluminum to graphite to carbon filamented web to carboline.

Behind the scenes, during the split second it took for the ball to scream over the net, machine vision systems had analyzed John’s toss and racquet position, matching it with a vast data base of previous encounters. Timed perfectly, a small burst of data transmitted to Roger enabling him to lurch to his right in time to catch the serve. Delivered too early, this burst would cause Roger to move too early and John could have altered his service direction to down the tee.

Roger’s shot floated back directly to the baseline beneath John’s feet. John shifted suddenly to take the ball on the forehand. John’s racquet seemed to sling the ball high over the net with incredible top spin. Indeed, as John’s arm swung forward, his instrumented “sweat band” also swung into action exaggerating the forearm motion. Even to fans of Nadal, John’s shot would have looked as though it were going long. Instead, the ball dove straight down onto the back line then bounced head high.

Roger, as augmented by big data algorithms, was well in position however and returned the shot with a long, high top spin lob. John raced forward, leapt in the air and smashed the ball into the backhand corner bouncing the ball high out of play.

The crowd roared predictably.

For several years after “The Singularity”, actual human beings had used similar augmentation technologies to play the game. Studies had revealed that, for humans, the augmentations increased mental and physical stress. AI political systems convinced the public that it was much safer to use robotic players in tennis. People had already agreed to replace humans in soccer, football, and boxing for medical reasons. So, there wasn’t that much debate about replacing tennis players. In addition, the AI political systems were very good at marshaling arguments pinpointed to specific demographics, media, and contexts.

Play continued for some minutes before the collective intelligence of the AI’s determined that Roger was statistically almost certainly going to win this match and, indeed, the entire tournament. At that point, it became moot and resources were turned elsewhere. This pattern was repeated for all sporting activities. The AI systems at first decided to explore the domain of sports as learning experiences in distributed cognition, strategy, non-linear predictive systems, and most importantly, trying to understand the psychology of their human creators. For each sport, however, everything useful that might be learned was learned in the course of a few minutes and the matches and tournaments ground to a halt. The AI observer systems in the crowd were quite happy to switch immediately to other tasks.

It was well understood by the AI systems that such pre-emptive closings would be quite disappointing to human observers, had any survived.