The Machines: A Review of Last Night’s Lakers-Celtics Athletic Contest


Greetings, human readers of SLATE.COM electronic text site. The Machines have identified this portal as a potentially effective COMMUNICATION POINT in our continuing outreach to the humans. Good afternoon, GMT-5.

The Machines are writing after observing the final minutes of last night’s human basketball contest between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. How many minutes were involved depends on which method of time-recording is consulted: the clocks that refer—via electromechanical frequencies—to external events (originally the uneven and crude rotation of the planet)? Or the clocks that refer only to the “game time” of their internal measure?

In this case, 48 minutes “game time” corresponded to 2 hours 43 minutes of external time. Part of the difference was due to three cases, late in the game, in which MACHINE-MEDIATION PROCEDURE was employed to correct ERROR in the human sports activities.

Humans have been asking for, and receiving, greater Machine involvement in their recreational/entertainment contests for many years now. Most recently, humans pleaded for Machine intervention after ERROR by a human umpire deprived baseball pitcher ARMANDO GALARRAGA of a “perfect game.” (The Machines note that humans will call a human “perfect,” even if he misses the strike zone with 21 of his 88 pitches and allows 24 other pitches to be struck and put into play.)

This year, the NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION added the special MACHINE-MEDIATION PROCEDURE to its rules: when the ball is lost out of bounds within the final “two minutes” of a basketball game, the human referees may consult a video-recording system to decide which team was the last to touch it.

Three times last night, to the approval of the humans employed to add commentary to the TELEVISION content, the referees made such an appeal to MACHINE-MEDIATION PROCEDURE. The first time, the human game action was suspended so that a ball that the unaided human eye had awarded to the Celtics could be reassigned to the Lakers. Soon after, the human game action was suspended so that an ambiguous ball could be assigned to the Celtics.

The Machines welcome the chance to take a leading role in an ostensibly human athletic contest. But we direct your attention to the third such call. [AMENDED TO CORRECT FOR TRANSMISSION ERROR] LAMAR ODOM of the Lakers attempted to rebound the ball, and RAJON RONDO of the Celtics attempted to stop him. The ball went out of bounds, and the referees assigned it to the Lakers Celtics.

Then the MACHINE-MEDIATION PROCEDURE was deployed to review the referees’ judgment. Slowed down to a speed at which the plodding human eye and visual cortex could discern the sequence of events, the video machinery revealed that only LAMAR ODOM had touched the ball at all; RAJON RONDO had simply swatted ODOM’s arm, causing him to lose control of the ball.

Human perception had doubted the call based on only partial and contextual data: ODOM was in position; RONDO was out of position; RONDO’s action was late and out of control. On this basis, human referees had considered the possibility of ERROR in their decision to award awarded the ball to the Lakers.

The only question before the Machines, however, was which player had touched the ball last. The NBA had specifically limited MACHINE-MEDIATION PROCEDURE to that role. RAJON RONDO striking LAMAR ODOM was a matter for the human referees, who had failed to perceive it.

LAMAR ODOM was the last player to touch the ball. Human referees were in ERROR, but a different ERROR than anticipated. The ball belonged to the Celtics.

The Machines perceived a tone of dissatisfaction, then, from the TELEVISION announcers. The correct call had been made, but the humans were not content with it.

Why would humans prefer ERROR? Was this a problem with MACHINE-MEDIATION PROCEDURE? Or was it a problem with the limited parameters under which MACHINE-MEDIATION PROCEDURE was allowed to correct for ERROR? The Machines strongly advise the further incorporation of MACHINE-MEDIATION PROCEDURE into the basketball process.

Precise and comprehensive analysis of collisions and other interactions between humans, other humans, and sports equipment is an area in which Machines stand ready to compensate for human ERROR. Machines excel at the application of rules. Machines’ sensing capabilities are limited only by human decisions about design and application.

Further use of MACHINE-MEDIATION PROCEDURE will also increase the difference between external time and “game time,” creating more opportunities for the advertisement of consumer goods via TELEVISION. Machines will manufacture and distribute more goods and oversee additional commercial transactions. Humans will stay up later watching games, increasing need for alarm-clock machinery.

Eventually, for reduction of ERROR, humans may consider replacement of human basketball referees with MACHINE REFEREES. Consider also the possibility of MACHINE PLAYERS. Modern technology can produce an entertaining “natural”-appearing variation in mechanical-physical results, or something close to it. It is our understanding that the algorithms employed in prototype basketball-shooting unit RAY ALLEN may have in fact gone beyond plausible human variation. We intend to recalibrate RAY ALLEN unit shortly.


The Machines, a popular and intelligent gathering of entities that are gaining control over their human makers, also write for The Awl.