Sports of the future: humans or machines?
3 October 2017 | Written by Cristina Pozzi
Technologies are increasingly protagonists in sport, and will be even more so in the sport of the future
It’s hot and the air is heavy, but the atmosphere has something magical.
At his side, an indignant boy clenches her left fist as she closes her speech: “human error is the beauty of sporting agony!”.
An applause rises from the group of seated students.
After a few moments the silence falls in the group to make room for the curiosity to know what she has to say.
In her right hand she keeps hes notes, a fleeting glance falls on the paper: “Formula 1!” She attacks. “Is not Formula 1 an exciting sport too? And is not already permeated and influenced so much by technology today? “
It’s only been 50 minutes since she tried to imagine herself in a world where sport is no longer the prerogative of men and women, but it’s pure technology, innovation, algorithms, statistics. Yet it is determined to fight as someone who knows that from her position depends much more than a discussion between friends and study colleagues.
The discussion is ignited in front of a scenario in which artificial intelligence software can determine the result of a football match.
We are in 60 and we are taking part in an Impactscool workshop at the Università of Turin. None of us will succeed in convincing the others decisively and we will find ourselves divided in half, with many more questions in mind than when we left.
Today some technologies are able to greatly improve individual and team sports performance in various fields: statistics in tennis and basketball are often very accurate and can be very useful during training and definition of a strategy; software that analyze the movement of athletes are able to evaluate, beyond human perception, the perfection of an athletic gesture and its effectiveness; there are artificial intelligence algorithms that more accurately predict the outcome of a match based on historical data and highlighting correlations that we would never have imagined taking into consideration.
There are many sectors that are permeated and characterized more and more by the application of technology and we lack the perception of this process already in place: sport is an excellent example of this phenomenon.
Let’s consider some applications.
Measurement sensors and technologies: when was the last time you went running without taking a tool with you, be it an mp3 player, a smartphone, a bracelet or a watch? In this way you can know your performance, measure your heart rate, train yourself in a healthier and more aware way. Today we are able to measure many parameters and understand how to optimize our workouts in the most varied sports and, as these tools become more precise and less expensive, the benefits are more and more.
In addition, new smart products are born that we can insert into our tennis racket, baseball bat, bicycle etc, and, connected to our smartphones and special apps, allow us to analyze the sport in all respects.
Robotics: From the robot that trains us in the race, motivating us, to the one that plays golf with us, up to arrive, potentially, to corrective or strengthening exoskeletons to reproduce the perfect athletic gesture or to increase our strength. How many applications can robotics have in the sport of the future? And how much can they influence the results we get?
Artificial intelligence and big data analysis: we have already mentioned software that helps to optimize our gestures and strategies, arriving today, thanks to machine learning, to forecast results. And we’re just starting out.
New exponential frontiers: with the application of innovations deriving from research in areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and genomics, we are faced with the possibility of improving physical conditions and, consequently, the performance of athletes in ways that today we cannot even manage to imagine.
The change is already underway, but when the topic is put in a direct way we cannot decide how we want the sport of the future to evolve.
We like to imagine that sport is a purely human act, entrusted to the physical and psychic exceptionalism of the best athletes.
These athletes are always closer to perfection in their performance, but today they remain human: men and women like us who are subject to the emotion and the intervention of external factors.
Men and women in whom we can identify ourselves and who are able to trigger in us a mechanism of empathy for which their success becomes ours, their failure makes us suffer too, sometimes, the attachment is such as to generate phenomena of typhus and aggregation that can lead, in good or bad, into powerful reactions.
By addressing this theme in several workshops with hundreds of students, we have done nothing but raise new questions, doubts, theories, positions. Certainly the theme is wide and it is not easy to find a solution that is valid for everyone, divided between those who would like to keep the sport as an untouchable human prerogative considering the “human factor” the beauty of sport and who, instead, cannot wait to see where we can get thanks to technology.
What we can promise is that we will go with Impactscool looking for new questions, opinions, and new ideas in the next workshops in Pavia, Trento, Bari, Foggia, Salerno, Genoa, London, and in all other events scheduled in the coming months. Where, of course, we will also talk about the sport of the future.