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Artificial Intelligence in Sports


It is no secret that sports play a huge role in the lives of people worldwide, especially in the United States. Sporting events provide a source of entertainment, competition, and overall satisfaction that is difficult to measure. However, the realm of sports is by no means perfect. Different aspects of the sporting world, from the accuracy of any particular sports’ officials to the health of the athletes, have been called into question. Despite these imperfections, there is room for improvement in today’s day and age, largely due to the development of artificial intelligence. In the following paragraphs, some of the aforementioned problems in the sports world will be discussed and expanded upon, as well as some ways in which AI technology could potentially solve these issues and make the sports world more entertaining, enjoyable, and fair.

Before discussing the impacts AI technology is making now and could make in the future sporting world, it’s important to first understand a bit about what artificial intelligence is and how it works. Many people are familiar with the terms “artificial intelligence” and “AI,” but few truly understand the logistics behind it. In fact, “few concepts are as poorly understood as artificial intelligence”. The actual definition of artificial intelligence is by no means set in stone and different individuals have described it in a number of ways. For example, opines “artificial intelligence is a field, which combines computer science and robust data sets, to enable problem-solving.”

AI technology has become a major part of life in today’s society and is used in a plethora of industries. The problem-solving abilities of artificial intelligence, which allow for quicker, more accurate processes to occur and make various tasks easier and more practical, will be the primary discussion points in this paper. While not typically thought of as something related to sports, the following paragraphs will explain how AI is used now and could be used in the future in three of the most popular North American sports.

One of the most popular sports not only in the United States but also countries such as Japan and the Dominican Republic is baseball; in fact, there has been no mainstream sport with greater longevity and sustained success. For the sake of clarity and consistency, baseball played in the United States will be discussed in this paper. Baseball is particularly unique in that there is perhaps no sport that has embraced the potential of AI technology as much as it has. Everything from the search and discovery of prospects to fan interaction to training and health has been introduced to the world of AI, per Garcia. However, the greatest potential for artificial intelligence in baseball lies not in the various tasks which have already been made easier, but the modern problems that could be solved in the future by technology.

The greatest of these issues refers to the accuracy of umpires in the game. Umpire accuracy has been called into question on numerous occasions by both fans and athletes. An analysis of nearly four million pitches from 2008-2018 found that “home plate umpires made incorrect calls over 12 percent of the time”. While 12 percent does not appear to be significant, it works out to an average of 14 mistakes per game. The good news is that because AI technology has been embraced in baseball, there could be relief in the future. According to Willis, The Atlantic League, an independent baseball organization, began experimenting with technology known as “TrackMan,” which is designed to report to the umpire whether a pitch was a ball or a strike. While there were some hiccups in the system, it did seem to assist in the accuracy of calls. This advent of electronic strike zones and AI-based technology could very well make its way into Major League Baseball in the future, something that would undoubtedly allow fans and players alike to enjoy the game to its full potential.

Another sport in which AI technology has been adopted and applied in recent years is basketball. Despite being traditionally thought of as a North American sport, it has amassed a respectable global fanbase as well. The Sportsver Team mentions various countries including Argentina, China, and Greece that exhibit interest in the sport. Similarly to the discussion about technology in baseball, basketball in the United States will be analyzed here.

AI technology and its potential in basketball is not as readily obvious as in baseball, but there are several behind the scenes examples worth noting. For example, one of the most critical elements of a basketball game is each team’s ability to game plan and strategize in a way that allows them to outsmart the opponent. Unfortunately for coaches and fans, this is not always easy to do. That’s where artificial intelligence comes into play. There is a newly-developed AI project which basically allows coaches to sketch their plays on a computer and run a program simulating the play against a computerized defense. The program is “trained with player movement data from the National Basketball Association [and] converts these simplified sketches into a realistic simulation of how both offensive and defensive players would move during a play.” There are many other projects that can Identify and differentiate individual symptoms, for instance, AIRA that utilizes machine learning algorithms to pinpoint defective symptoms of human retina pathologies and record data to be used in diagnosis.

The system is by no means perfect, but the potential it has to revolutionize the strategic element of basketball certainly exists and could eventually lead to a significant change in the way games are prepared for. The final individual sport that will be discussed here is American football. While baseball and basketball have been around for more calendar years, there is no more popular sport in the United States.

Despite its popularity, there is perhaps no more physically exhausting and potentially hazardous sport. As a result, the National Football League (NFL) is constantly searching for ways to make the game more enjoyable for the fans and safe for the players. One such technology being developed by the NFL, in association with Amazon Web Services, may “over time… be used to detect and prevent a wider range of injuries”. Because football is a contact sport, player safety is critical. If this new AI can be used to effectively diagnose and treat the numerous injuries that are inherently likely from the game of football, both players and fans will reap the benefits.

One element of sports that is often overlooked is the intense physical activity athletes subject themselves to both in game and during offseason workout sessions. As a result, there is the potential for them to overwork themselves or fail to receive the appropriate nutrients necessary to sustain their workload. In addition to trainers becoming richer in their knowledge of how to properly fuel athletes, improvements in AI technology have assisted as well. “By applying artificial intelligence… athletes can learn how to feed their bodies efficiently through each phase of activity - training, performing, and recovering.” If technological advancements are able to enhance the processes behind developing athletes, not only will the athletes have a greater chance of long-term success, but fans and followers of the sporting world will be treated to greater athleticism and overall entertainment. Sports play a huge role in the lives of people both in the United States and worldwide. They provide an opportunity to unwind for fans and an avenue for competitive spirits to be unleashed for athletes. While AI is not currently used in the sporting world as extensively as in health care, banking, or an industry where general technology is in abundance, the current uses of it have made a difference. Overall, if advancements in technology continue as rapidly as they have in recent years, AI will undoubtedly become something used religiously to solve the sporting world’s inefficiencies.

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