This is based on a presentation I made in Dubai on April 23, 2019.
In a 2016 article, I called Rio the first IoT Olympic Games. In Rio, we saw how athletes, coaches, judges, fans, stadiums and cities benefitted from IoT technology. IoT has forever changed the way we see and experience sports. Next year, we have the opportunity to verify my predictions, where we may name Tokyo the first AI Olympic Games.
During my presentation in Dubai, I explained to the audience the incredible ways IoT and AI are impacting sports. I dedicated some time explaining how IoT and AI are playing an increasingly significant role in boosting talent, managing health and improving coaching and training. Today, these technologies are enabling athletes to improve performance, coaches to better prepare for games, judges to review and score more efficiently, and fans to enjoy new, exciting experiences. I also remarked on the importance of teams, clubs and cities collaborating to make stadiums more secure and exciting for fans.
I emphasized how in creating smart things, AI and IoT can be used to make every thousandth of a second count for athletes and coaches, as well as how AI and IoT can be used to predict the future of a race, match or bet.
I introduced different examples of how all sports are using IoT and AI, and of course I shared my visions for 10 to 15 years from now. Can you imagine integrating virtual reality and the real world for sports? Can you imagine mixed teams of robots and humans or super-humans playing new games?
During my talk, I did not forget to mention the challenges involved in building machine learning models in sports and the challenges that IoT and AI still have. I used my speech to raise awareness among the attendants that there is also a dark side to these technologies. We cannot forget that sports is a business and therefore enterprises, governments and individuals can make wrong use of these technologies.
In summary, it was a great session in which I shared my point of views on:
- How we want IoT and AI transform coaches, athletes, judges and fans;
- How we want IoT and AI to continue attracting people to stadiums;
- How we want IoT and AI transform the business of sports; and
- How AI is changing the future of sports betting.
How can IoT and AI transform athletes, coaches, judges and fans?
While the true essence of sports still lies in the talent and perseverance of athletes, it is often no longer enough. Therefore, athletes will continue demanding increasingly sophisticated technologies and more advanced training techniques to improve performance. For instance, biomechanical machine learning models of players will be able to predict and prevent potential career-threatening physical and mental injuries, or even detect early signs of fatigue or stress-induced injuries. They can also be used to estimate players’ market values to make appropriate offers when acquiring new talent.
Coaches use AI to identify patterns in opponents’ tactics, strengths and weaknesses while preparing for games. This helps them devise detailed game plans based on assessments of the opposition and therefore maximize the likelihood of victory. In many leading teams, AI systems are used to constantly analyze streams of data collected by wearables to identify signs that are indicative of players developing musculoskeletal or cardiovascular problems. This enables teams to maintain their most valuable assets in prime condition through long, competitive seasons.
We tend to think that technology helps sports just when unjust decisions occur. That´s why we approve of inventions like those by Paul Hawkins, creator of Hawk-Eye, a technology that is now an integral part of the spectator experience when watching sports live, or more recently, VAR (video assistant referee) in soccer.
The use of technology allows judges to watch multiple cameras in real time and view aggregated data from sensors installed on stadiums, things and athletes to make decisions more accurately and objectively.
We as spectators or fans need more transparency about the exercise’s difficulty, degree of compliance and final score. And now we have the technology to do it. IoT and AI don’t claim to be infallible, just very reliable — and judges should adapt to these new technologies.
Without fans, sports wouldn’t exist. It is understandable that companies are targeting fans with IoT and AI to keep them engaged whether in the stadium or at home.
How can IoT and AI attract people to stadiums?
Within stadiums and sports clubs, many leagues across the globe are incorporating technologies inside and outside to boost the unique experiences of fans. The challenge is how to combine what the oldest and newest supporters are looking for when attending stadiums events.
What will the stadium of the future look like? I have read numerous initiatives of big clubs and leagues, but am most excited about the future stadium of Real Madrid. I wish the club would allow me to advise them on how to create a smart, intelligent global environment to provide each fan with an individual experience and know who is in the crowd, as well as learn from fan behaviors to anticipate future needs.
How IoT and AI transform the business of sports
As long as sports remain a fascination for the masses, businesses will always have the opportunity to profit from it. As long as there is profiting to be gained from the world of sports, the investment in and incorporation of technology for sports will continue.
I recently read an article warning about the new world order forming right now. The author explained how nine companies are responsible for the future of AI. Three of the companies are Chinese — Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, often collectively referred to as BAT — while the other six are American — Google, Amazon, IBM, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, often referred as the G-Mafia. Since AI is about optimizing available data, these nine companies will likely manage most of the sports data generated in the world.
Collaboration is needed now to stop this danger and address the democratization of AI in sports. It is urgent companies and governments around the globe work together to create guiding principles for the development and use of AI — and not only in sports. This means we need regulations, but in a different way. We do not want AI to get in the hands of lawmakers; while very well-read and smart people, they overwhelmingly lack degrees in AI and IoT.
Will AI change the future of sports betting?
The impact of technology on sports cannot be specifically measured, but some technological innovations do raise questions about fairness. Are we still comparing apples with apples? Is it right to compare the speed of an athlete wearing high-tech running shoes to one without? Whether we like it or not, technology will continue to enhance athlete performance. And at some point, we will have to put specific rules and regulations in place about which tech enhancements are allowed.
There is a downside to advanced technology being introduced to sports. Machine learning models are now used routinely to predict the results of games. Sports betting is a competitive sport itself among fans, but AI can substantially tilt the playing field.
I analyzed many IoT and AI companies for sports in order to prepare for my session. I am scared of the game result prediction capabilities, but am more scared of the manipulation of competition using AI algorithms on the terabytes of data collected daily from IoT devices and other sources, such as social media networks, without the permission of the users.
The sport business market is generating billions of dollars every year, but without control and education, we could find a future generation of ludopaths and a number of sports service providers controlling the entire world of sports.
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