The sporting superstars of today enjoy a whole range of advantages over their predecessors from just a few decades ago. They benefit from superior nutrition, superior healthcare, and greater reach via their social media profiles.
But among the more interesting advantages in recent years has been the shift toward Artificial Intelligence, and the leverage of huge amounts of data to improve the decisions made by coaches and physical therapists.
What types of Data are coming into play?
If you’re a fan of football, then you’ll have noticed the encroachment of statistics onto coverage of the game. Not only do goals scored matter, but possession, number of shots, the proportion of those shots hitting the target, and the number of ‘key’ passes can all be recorded during the game. With the help of AI, many of these metrics can be calculated automatically – and many of them offer predictive power.
There’s also the data that comes directly from the players themselves – or, rather, from the wearable devices they have strapped to their chests. This might give an idea of a players location and positioning throughout a game, which can then be analysed by an AI to troubleshoot areas of potential weakness.
Improving performance doesn’t require elite-level analysis and equipment. AI-driven apps like HomeCourt allow individuals to up their game in sports like basketball, by identifying key metrics, and establishing where the opportunities for improvement lie. This kind of analysis makes it easy for players to understand their own strengths and weaknesses.
It’s already the case that pitchside advertising hoardings are being localised to the region where the sport is being broadcast. This is currently done using high-framerate boards and some clever camerawork, but it could be handed over to AI. An algorithm can identify which areas of the screen are consumed by the existing adverts, and replace them with other, more appropriate local businesses. It even works when players are standing in front of the hoardings themselves!
What does the future hold?
From a spectator’s perspective, among the more exciting potential applications of artificial intelligence is in speeding up contentious refereeing decisions. As it stands, many sports find themselves imposing long delays on players and fans, as video footage is painstakingly inspected, and lines are drawn on a screen to establish whether a given player is offside or not. An AI-driven assistant referee could make this determination reliably and instantly, which would allow us to retain the technical advantages of systems like VAR, while dispensing with the interruption to play. We should also think about the predictive power of machines, and what effect that might have on the gambling industry. When an AI can predict the outcome of a given event with better-than-chance certainty, the implications could be enormous – not only for the betting agencies, but for the sport on which they’re betting. Among the many implications of this will be that technology-specialising lawyers may have greater influence.