Wimbledon, AI And Emotional Inflation

So the first workers to fall, to lose their jobs, crushed under the relentless march of AI and the robots are not the care workers, factory workers or cleaners, but sports journalists. At Wimbledon, they have been replaced by IBM Watson.

IBM Watson is a lead system in cognitive computing. It has the power to analyse natural language and search vast libraries of data across the world for evidence and learn by pattern recognition.  Its delivery is across the cloud, so this cognitive power is accessible from anywhere: from your phone; from the desk top; from the media centre at Wimbledon.

IBM Watson will edit hours and hours of tennis playing and extract highlights to create short videos for television and social media. How will it do that? It will use its powerful pattern recognition capabilities to search for high emotion in matches: the roar of the crowd, the shouting, fist pumping, and tantrums; tears and smiles; rapturous applause.

Clearly this relieves the sports journalist of the tedium of trawling through hours of ball bouncing, sitting and drinking branded orange juice, and staring determinedly into the camera for what seems like an age when preparing to serve. Now sports journalists are freed up to be creative which is clearly a good idea.

Andy Murray

But there is a cost. Now the computer is making the decision about what is interesting. And that interest will be determined by emotional reaction. There are two problems with this.

Firstly in labelling something ‘interesting’ we are labelling something else ‘not-interesting’, based on judgements which have been programmed or, shall we say, taught to the computer. And we are determining what is interesting by some type of crowdsourcing. We miss an understanding of the tactical skill, the skilful shot, the anticipated response, the skilful reaction. We fail to understand the professionalism, and the sheer thought and skill that goes into tennis. Tennis becomes a matter of feeling, something close to the journalist’s heart who, regardless of the nature of an event, always asks, ‘How did that make you feel?”.

Secondly and more importantly, it means that being taken notice of requires emotional reactions, grunts, moans, jumping up and down, arguments with the umpire and jumping into the crowd. Those actions will be rewarded with exposure. And whether consciously or not our tennis players will find themselves upping the emotions, jumping, crying, falling over, punching the air in triumph at the slightest cause.

We will end up with a kind of emotional inflation in tennis, where the positive feedback loop amplifies certain behaviour.  This emotional inflation will shift the game from an appreciation of tactics to an epidemic of tantrums.

The algorithm, initially acting as a servant and support to human behaviour, becomes the master and determiner of human behaviour. And such a shift cannot be good for tennis.

This article was originally published on The Human Argument. Neil McBride is a researcher in Computer Ethics in the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University.  He blogs at humanargument.wordpress.com.

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