Changing the games: How Intel is powering Olympic athletes with AI

 Top-down shot of track runners in training.
Credit: Unsplash / Steven Lelham

You might not quite be able to call Paris 2024 the first AI Olympic Games - but it’s not far from the truth.

Unveiling its so-called ”AI agenda" back in April 2024, Intel set out its vision for a technologically influenced future of sport. One that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence, yet holds true to the Olympic values, and the spirit of the games.

TechRadar Pro sat down with Intel’s Jean-Laurent Phillippe, EMEA Chief Technology Officer, and Sotiris Salamouris, Chief Technology Officer at Olympic Broadcasting Services, to chat about how the best AI tools in sports are being deployed, why it’s everywhere right now, and what makes AI similar to cloud storage and computing.

  • Artificial intelligence in sport is - if you’ll excuse the pun - a game-changer. But how? 

Jean-Laurent Phillippe (JLP): [AI] is a game changer for absolutely everyone. The Olympic games are about the athletes. The fact that athletes can have customized training using AI, that’s brilliant. The fact that they can use a chatbot to not have to think ‘where do I have to be in one hour?’ They can ask, using an application on their cell phone. And then that's just for the athletes,  which means it's very specific for their needs. It’s tailored to them. AI will make them be able to focus on what they are here for which is train and compete.

Then you have venue management, helping the managers of some venues to know whether they need to bring more food because they will be able to count the number of people who are in the venue. [Viewers at home and at the event] will be able to tailor on our phone or on our 8K big-screen what we want to see.

Where is AI making the difference? Everywhere? Where is AI? It's everywhere. Where is Intel providing AI-based solutions? Everywhere.

Sotiris Salamouris (SS): When it comes to content, there is some aspect which will go direct to the athletes, apart from exposure that the broadcasts give them. They often represent themselves on social media. They’ll be able to create their own variations of content by themselves. This is where AI comes and helps it become easier. And help them gather all this content that exists around them, which is not easy. You’ve got to go through tens of thousands of hours just finding the content.

  • Why now?

JLP: Because the technology makes it feasible. And when I say technology I don't just mean AI instructions are available in the CPUs. Everything in the AI capabilities for compute, the AI software, the data – because AI without data doesn't work. Everything is digitised or digital. So, it's a perfect storm.

  • What are looking forward to seeing in the future, with AI and within the Olympic sphere? 

JLP: In terms of use cases, everyone wants something new or something specific for them. In terms of the training for the athlete themselves, AI will be able to help even further, especially in sports that are less hyped. Because there's less content, so it's less easy to check yourself or compare yourself against others.

SS: I think that in a very short time, it will be impossible for us to think that there was a time that we were doing the Olympics without having huge AI support in all aspects of planning and operations, presentation, whatever. It will become so integrated it will not be noticed.

JLP: One thousand people, one thousand young athletes were tested in Senegal. Forty of them were ‘wow’. One was over the top, better than an NFL athlete. And this person has never been discovered. So, the potential [for identifying new global talent] is huge.

  • What are the biggest challenges in implementing this level of AI?

JLP: My biggest challenge is making sure that anybody benefiting from it will not even notice it, which means that it works perfectly. We create redundancy to make sure that everything will be smooth.

SS: It's so important and so big and also demanding and complex because you are building this in the context of the Olympics, which by itself is a very demanding and complex event.

  • There’s a lot of hype around AI, how do you stop it from being perceived as just another buzzword? 

JLP: There’s a big difference between AI and GenAI. GenAI is a buzzword at the moment, I think. AI is not a buzzword. It's something that exists. It started with the beginning of computing. In the 60s, there was a first wave. In the 80s, there was a second wave. Now, the technology, the computing performance, the algorithms are here. The technology is making the solution scalable, and therefore there's no hype.

On my laptop, I logged in with my face recognition. When I type here [on a phone], it always knows what I plan on asking for. It's ubiquitous. AI is everywhere.

Inside AI, there are some small projects that could be ‘hype’. And we are going to go through the Valley of Disillusion at some point in time, on some of them, just like we did on some before. One of the only technologies I've seen where there was no Valley of Disillusion was Cloud. Because Cloud has been growing, it keeps on growing.

  • It always works. 

JLP: And AI will be the same. It will keep on working and providing you, me, and everyone additional benefits. That will be more and more transparent.

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