Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
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Kopac's Corner

Adding Insult to Surgery

by Bob Kopac

While I recovered at home after my left hip replacement, I surfed the Internet and stumbled upon an AP article by Yuri Kageyama titled "Honda Robot Asimo Learns to Jog." WHAT? A mechanical nuts-and-bolt-and-CPU creation that can jog, while I am hobbled after my operation? Oh, the humanity!

Researching this ignominy further, I searched for "Asimo" and found dozens of links to an announcement by the Honda Corporation that Asimo (Advanced Step in Innovative MObility) now can jog or run at a reported 3 kilometers per hour. That is faster than I have been able to go the past several years!

The scientists installed robotic hip joints containing balance sensors. NOW they tell me! I would have requested those for my surgery. And I thought I was cutting edge with titanium implants, making me similar to an F15 fighter jet.

Several news reports stated that scientists defined "running" as having both feet off of the ground between strides. Sounds to me like the scientists have been watching Peter Pan too many times, or have been hitting the eggnog a little too often over the holidays. In any case, the robot has to be smart enough to know how to land without falling flat on its "face". Having watched many runners in many races, I know that is easier said than done. I have seen runners trip over the painted line in the center of the road.

I then did further research. (Yes, I may have way too much free time.) I discovered that Asimo had competition! Days after the Honda press release, Sony Corporation announced that their Qrio (Quest for cuRIOsity) robot also could run. That means race directors now will have to allow for 3 categories: male, female, and humanoid robots. Think of the race computer programs that need to be upgraded! Perhaps the computer upgrades can be outsourced to the robots.

I have my suspicions about the real purpose of the Asimo and Qrio robots, though. I believe they are being developed to target Takahashi Naoko and her female marathon world record. Is it a coincidence that both robots are Japanese? I think not! If the designers indeed are targeting Ms. Naoko's record, shouldn't the robots be female? There is no mention in the articles about what sex the robots are, so perhaps they are fembots.

Am I paranoid to think robots want to break marathon records? Ha! I uncovered news reports that a robot named Gaak escaped from a robot contest in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England in 2002. Gaak left the building and made it all the way down to the street before being apprehended. Being suspicious, I checked the Internet and yes, I found mention of a Rotherham Marathon, although now defunct. My theory is that the robot, armed with outdated information, was trying to surreptitiously run that marathon, similar to Kathrine Switzer in the 1967 Boston Marathon. It was just as well, though, that the Rotherham Marathon was defunct; I doubt there would be any course officials like Jock Semple to attempt to thwart the robot's run. However, it probably is only a matter of time before robots officially challenge humans in foot races.

First the Kenyans, now the robots. Should American runners really be worried about robots eventually placing in all the top spots at the Boston Marathon? I think not. After additional research, I believe I have uncovered flaws. First, running programs for robots will face the same dilemma as the current American running program: potential candidates being lost to other competing interests. Doing even more Internet searches, I uncovered robots that could dance, perform martial arts, do back flips, cancel the Jerry Springer Show. Okay, not the last one, we know that's impossible, even for a robot.

Even Qrio has outside activities. In March 2004, Qrio conducted the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra performing Beethoven's 5th Symphony. What serious elite marathoner has time to be a conductor? None!

I then discovered what I believe is the ultimate fatal flaw. Many articles said that scientists expected the robots to continue learning as they ran. This proves the scientists must not be runners. Otherwise, they would know that running makes you dumb, and the longer you run, the dumber you become. By running longer distances, the robots will become dumber and dumber. That will lead to their developing a love for the Jerry Springer Show, turning into coach potatoes, and getting out of robotic shape. Thus marathons will be saved for the Kenyans.