I’ll start this post, as I sometimes do, with a disclaimer: I am not a rabid football fan. I enjoy watching an occasional game, and my wife is an enthusiastic supporter of her college alma mater’s football team (think blue turf in Idaho), but I don’t live for the game. My wife does not become a football widow, nor my children football orphans, on weekends. Football is a pleasant pastime for me, nothing more. So I’ve paid little attention to this season’s referee lockout, though it has been a prominent part of many media broadcast segments – both sports and non-sports related. Then a game last weekend upped the media attention even more. The Seattle Seahawks battled the Green Bay Packers. As the game wound to a close, Seattle was down 5 points. But they had the ball, and with only a handful of seconds left in the game, their quarterback lobbed a possible game winning pass into the end zone. A Seahawks receiver and Packer defender jumped for the ball, coming down together in a tangled heap. From the multiple instant replays that followed, it appeared the Packer’s defender had the upper hand. But in a strange twist of officiating, the officials made what some are calling ‘the worst call ever': touchdown Seahawks. Even though Green Bay appeared to have the edge in the play, there was just enough confusion in the play, enough wiggle-room in the interpretation, that the referees decided in favor of Seattle. Referee’s mistake or not, it just wasn’t Green Bay’s day.
Regardless of which team you cheer for, there is little doubt the replacement referees have changed the game in general, and possibly the fate for some teams specifically, for this season. While I’m tired of hearing about the replacement referees, particularly when they make a mistake the media thinks worth hyping (every referee, after all, occasionally makes a bad call), they are definitely game changers. The good news is they temporarily trumped the incessant presidential campaign rhetoric that has dominated media outlets for far too long. And the even better news is NFL management and the permanent referees have reached an agreement. As I write this, the permanent referees have already officiated in their first game of the season.
National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported another game changer, one that will certainly not have as long a national media run as the replacement referee circus, but may have much longer and more important impact: the State of California passed a law allowing the licensing of autonomous vehicles. Turns out California follows Nevada and Florida in doing so, and similar legislation may soon be on the books in Hawaii and Oklahoma. But consider the impact: right now it’s legal in three states for an automobile with no driver to be on the roadways. An automobile with no driver! For me it’s at once exciting and, well, scary. The required mechatronic technology is amazing and intriguing, no doubt the end result of long hours of modeling and simulation, the kind for which SystemVision-class tools are well suited. Couple this with what has to be a huge amount of computer program code, and you have a pretty significant project on your hands. Google has been working on an autonomous car – a modified Toyota Prius – for awhile now. In fact, Google was the first to license a driverless car in Nevada, and I assume will be quick to do the same in California (a tangential thought here — how does the leading search engine company go from cataloging the Internet to leading the autonomous vehicle charge — just wondering). Other companies, many in collaboration with university research programs, are also working on driverless cars.
I’m not sure I’m ready to cede complete control of my transportation needs to a central computer and a bunch of sensors and actuators. I’m okay with computer control of my car’s performance, but I prefer to do the driving myself, especially around town. There are times, though, on long cross country trips when a nap would be nice and I would gladly let someone else do the driving, even if that someone is a computer. After all, what could go wrong on a long, flat stretch of freeway at 75 miles per hour? Yikes! What am I thinking? Better just double-up on my NoDoz® tablets. Despite autonomous vehicles being legal in a few states, I supposed it will be a long while before they become a regular fixture on American roads.
So what have I learned in the last few days? The lesson is simple: there are game changers, and then there are Game Changers. The former make nice water cooler or lunchtime conversations. The latter, given enough time, have the power to shape our future.