Sporting Chances: Robot Referees and the Automation of Enforcement

We Robot 2017

43 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2018

See all articles by Meg Leta Jones

Meg Leta Jones

Georgetown University - Communication, Culture, and Technology

Karen Levy

Cornell University

Date Written: November 29, 2018


This paper examines controversies about automated enforcement technologies in professional sports. Sports might seem like clear contexts for automating rule enforcement: rules are well-established, accuracy is ostensibly valued, human officials are known to be fallible, and “robot refs” are well within reach technologically. But in sports, automated officiating systems have faced strong resistance as substitutes for human judgment. We consider the reception of various types of automated officiating systems across four case studies (football, baseball, golf, and tennis) and describe reasons why each has faced hurdles to adoption, in favor of imperfect, human-dependent enforcement — what we term the “sporting chance.” The sporting chance is set forth in six sociocultural values of imperfect enforcement: drama, adversity, custom, integrity, humanity, and dignity. Consideration of these values in the sports context might fruitfully inform our understanding of public attitudes toward automation in other domains.

Keywords: automated enforcement, robotics, artificial intelligence, sports, computer law

Suggested Citation

Jones, Meg and Levy, Karen, Sporting Chances: Robot Referees and the Automation of Enforcement (November 29, 2018). We Robot 2017, Available at SSRN:

Meg Jones (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - Communication, Culture, and Technology ( email )

3520 Prospect St NW
Suite 311
Washington, DC 20057
United States

Karen Levy

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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