Now, I love tennis. I'm not a great player, but settling down to watch a five set thriller at a Grand Slam is my idea of time well spent.
I'm very much from the era of 'The Big Three' - Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in no particular order - and I've thoroughly enjoyed watching these titans of the sport slog it out over the years. (Perhaps with my Scottish roots that should be 'The Big Four', but I'll save that debate for another time.)
So it was with somewhat mixed views that I read about the intrusion of AI into the sport of tennis. As reported:
"Coaches now have access to artificial intelligence (AI), where sophisticated software is fed, or trained, with unimaginable amounts of data. The resulting AI can spot patterns that a human would never be able to see."
On one hand, the tennis-purist in me wondered whether this is really in the spirit of competition. I consider tennis to represent an individual's endeavour to both physically and mentally overcome an opponent, with a combination of skill, physicality and strategy. Could such an AI-based analysis take a little of the flair out of the sport?
On the other hand, this struck me as yet another fascinating example of AI pervading our daily lives. Indeed, nowadays whether you are gaming online, surfing the web, talking to a chatbot, or even applying for a job, in all likelihood there is an AI involved. So why shouldn't AI be used to improve sports as well?
AI is already all around us, with applications spanning computer vision, natural language processing, speech processing, control methods and robotics. A good indicator of the extent to which the adoption of AI continues to grow is to look at patent filings. The graph below is taken from Marks & Clerk's “AI Report 2022”, and shows annual filings at the EPO for AI-based patent applications, where year-on-year growth up to 2019 is clear.
Perhaps time will tell whether the sport of tennis really is improved by the use of AI. In the meantime, I'll just keep working on my serve.
Source: “AI Report 2022”, May 2022, Marks & Clerk
To read the full “AI Report 2022”, which provides a long-term trend analysis of AI patents and applications at the EPO, you can download the report here or via our AI page on the Marks & Clerk website.