The First Robot Judges Take on Sport

by Cambree Bernkopf

The word is out: gymnastics officials are making artificial intelligence technology available to judges at the October World Championships. Thirty small grey boxes will be placed around the floor, watching the gymnasts’ every movement. They contain a set of three-dimensional laser sensors that track the movement of the gymnast and the data is then fed to an artificial intelligence system which is accessible to the judges.  These robots help overcome human error.

Other sports have also added more technology in order to best judge the game. The last Women’s Soccer World Cup in 2019 used VAR technology in order to best call risky plays. According to The New York Times, baseball is already experimenting with robot umpires and tennis is starting to expand electronic line-calling. As the sports industry grows bigger and bigger, so does the importance of the right calls, which stresses the importance of no human error. 

Laurent Landi, who coaches the American star Simone Biles, talks more about what is happening and why. He says, “We all know how subjective scoring can be,” which is very true for lots of sports including dance, swim and dive, color guard, and gymnastics. Landi knows it could be a bit risky but he said once the computers proved their accuracy, they could represent a big, positive step for the sport.

In order to make sure these robots were as accurate as possible, creators took extra careful precautions. Before this year’s competition, Yul Moldauer, a member of the American men’s team, and the hundreds of other competitors were asked to participate in a “body dimension measurement” procedure that would precisely scan their bodies and movements so that the analyses could proceed with maximum accuracy.

Some worry about this not working and others think that it’s just flat out wrong. “We shouldn’t turn it over to robots because, to be honest, I think that’s a little weird,” said Yul Moldauer. “I think we should always have human beings being the judges.” There’s so much politics that go into gymnastics. Other people worry about the data privacy of an athlete, but it was confirmed all athlete information collected at the competition would be discarded at a predetermined expiration date.

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