Who sets the limits of Artificial Intelligence in Sports?
Juan Antonio Belmar
April 19, 2024

What is happening today with Artificial Intelligence? If we could semantically define AI, we are met with a stream of conceptual citations – all in the same direction – highlighting its benefits, but also risks involved. AI is already an economically transformative technology, it can help cure diseases, make scientific discoveries and overcome challenges we once thought insurmountable and, sport is part of this new industrial revolution, known as 5.0. But is AI compatible with the values that sport exudes? AI was one of the protagonists in the various presentations at the recent SportAccord and, without realizing it, it is already part of our daily lives.

According to Stuart Russel and Peter Novig, two eminent experts in this field, “AI is a specialization of computer science that creates and develops program systems capable of performing tasks that normally require human intelligence. These tasks include learning, reasoning, problem solving, perception, natural language processing and decision making. AI is based on the simulation of human cognitive processes using algorithms and mathematical models”.

No one can ignore the attributes that AI has, but how do we bring it to sport without violating the principles promoted by the Olympics or an ordinary citizen who is inspired by the passion that surrounds the practice of his favorite sport? Artificial Intelligence has emerged as a powerful tool in various disciplines and fields, and sport is no exception.

The powerfull and precision of the 100 meters. (Hollandse Hoogte/Shutterstock)

AI, just as an example, can be used to improve the performance of an elite athlete, enter data from their training and competitions and make a performance projection with an accuracy never seen before. By having this information, the multidisciplinary team can make decisions that will result in a better sporting outcome. To implement this technological support for the athlete in question requires a high economic investment, therefore, access to AI is also conditioned to those who can pay. At this point, the developed or avant-garde countries continue to increase their advantage over those developing countries or others that are increasingly distant from having the possibility of competing and only participate with their own limitations in major events.

In previous columns of SportsIn we published the crisis in international boxing due to fight fixing in the Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games, everyone wonders why an AI system is not implemented to make the arbitration more objective and validate the scores correctly and have a ruling attached to the rules and eradicate once and for all the suspicions of a verdict. It seems to be a matter of will, unless the most conservative defend the thesis that the essence of boxing would be lost if technology is introduced to collaborate in the judging of a fight. In this particular case, Artificial Intelligence would be an unprecedented contribution. Do not be surprised if in a few years we see robots refereeing, similar to a human being, with the only difference that they will not transmit emotions, but the rest will be incorporated with the necessary data sooner than we imagine.

OLYMPIC GAMES eSPORTS

Let’s go back to the world of human beings for a moment and forget about machines. As is common knowledge, the International Olympic Committee literally opened the doors to AI with eSports. It even went further and set tentative dates for the eSports Olympics, targeting 2025 or 2026 at the latest. The IOC understands that this is an invaluable market, of unprecedented scope, being able to compete with the traditional Summer Olympics and add it to its portfolio of major events.

“We will stay true to our Olympic values.”

I quote Thomas Bach, IOC President: “Artificial Intelligence and e-sports offer enormous opportunities. Whatever form the Olympic eSports Games take, our parameters and conditions are set. We will remain true to our Olympic values of peace, respect, non-discrimination and solidarity.” The bet is clear.

During the development of this editorial column I have tried to separate the emotions from the rational and I admit that for long minutes the machine consumed me. I felt that part of me was mimicking the attributes of these digital minds, increasingly more powerful than anyone else, assuming, moreover, that they do not have affective consciousness, but cognitive.

It causes a degree of fear not knowing the limits to which we are subjected, therefore, the invitation is to make a responsible use of AI in sport. This means the implementation of clear data privacy and security policies, as well as the promotion of equal opportunities for all, regardless of their social, religious and political status. In addition, it is essential to maintain a balance between the use of Artificial Intelligence and decision making according to human intuition and experience in order to preserve the essence of sport.

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