AI sport, it’s in the game

This article looks at the practical applications of artificial intelligence AI in Sport. How long before every athlete is AI-powered?

“I would like to thank my teammates, our coaches and of course, my parents. But most of all I want to thank our AI-powered robotic coach for making us the champions we are today.”

OK, perhaps this acceptance speech might not take place at next year’s Super Bowl LII. But AI’s impact on sport is already considerable and will continue to grow as franchises seek game changing advantages which will push them over the top against their opponents.

The likes of Billy Beane with “Moneyball” and Sam Hinckie’s “The Process” have been celebrated in some quarters as revolutionary methods to transform the fortunes of a franchise. The next development might not have a face to it, but AI could send sport down a path it has never seen before. The AI arms race has begun.

Wearables in sport

Wearables are not just for fitness fanatics hoping to post a new low resting heart rate to social media, they are also being incorporated in the world’s biggest leagues. In the 2015/6 season, The Premier League allowed players to use them during matches for the first time.

The devices are able to analyze the workload placed on players to determine whether they have been under or over trained and when an injury is imminent. With championships sometimes determined by which team is the healthiest, knowing when is the best time to reintroduce your injured star to the first team is crucial.

It is also hoped that AI-powered wearables will be able to improve player techniques in the future. As the devices can already detect which foot players are pushing off from, it is not a great leap (no pun intended) to assume they will soon be able to analyze their positioning when striking the ball and will be able to recommend adjustments.

With wearables already available on the likes of cricket bats and hockey sticks to measure strength and technique, the days of athletes putting on seemingly normal shirts filled with sensors to measure valuable data are not far away.

Sport safety

It has been one of the most controversial topics in the NFL as more studies emerge highlighting the potential long-term brain injuries suffered by players. AI is going a long way to help identify and treat potential cases.

One example comes from researchers in Montreal who can now detect long-term concussions which can cause lasting brain damage. Their AI has identified that players who suffered from a concussion had abnormal white matter connections in parts of the brain which could indicate degeneration. It claims an accuracy of 90% in detecting concussions.

Identifying the mentally tough

Hard work beats talent.

A phrase you might have heard from any sports star, coach or even a pundit paid to find a fault. Indeed, sports stars, in general, are blessed with such physical attributes that it takes something more to separate the best from the very best.

One AI startup is trying to make the task of discovering this easier through AI and machine learning to understand players’ mental strength. Receptiviti has created a language psychology AI platform which can analyze the mentality of players.

For example, it believes it can hand potential player recruits an iPad and ask a few open-ended questions to understand what type of player they will be. Not only will this help identify the very best players in the long run but it will also save coach’s time chasing after players who may not live up to their potential.

Sport is a game of inches according to the cliche. Artificial intelligence in its various guises will represent a giant step forward for any franchise willing to invest.