Along with the 32 national teams from around the globe gathering for the World Cup in Qatar, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are making a strong showing as the latest entrant in the tournament that might just help even the playing field by boosting the fairness of on-field play.
FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) – the World Cup’s organizing body – is touting a slate of hyped-up emerging technologies that soccer players and viewers around the world will benefit from, including motion sensors in the soccer balls and automated offside tracking cameras.
Players and referees will no longer have to guess when it comes to making calls that could cost players precious time, or even a goal. Adidas invented the first World Cup match ball that will leverage a motion sensor to provide unprecedented insight into every touch of the game – at 500 times per second.
It will help inform offside situations as well as assist in detecting unclear touches, thereby ultimately improving the quality and speed of the video assisted referee decision-making process, the sports marketing giant said.
In addition to the connected ball technology, FIFA has deployed 12 cameras under Qatar’s stadium roof to track both the ball and 29 data points on each individual player. The limb-and-ball tracking data will apply AI to alert officials when an offensive player is in the offside position – a call that’s imperative to know whether a goal is good or not.
Once a referee confirms an offside decision, the automated system then generates a 3D animation that “perfectly details the position of the players’ limbs at the moment the ball was played” and places that image on the big screen for all the audience to see, FIFA said.
With World Cup viewership estimated as high as three billion people, the new tech might be AI’s biggest coming out party yet.
This buzzy invocation of AI during this year’s World Cup reflects the flip side of the anxiety that has been rising around the technology among U.S. government watchdogs, Congress, and even President Joe Biden himself.
On the somewhat creepier side of the technology, this year’s World Cup will also go down as one of the most tightly surveilled in FIFA’s history. Each attendee entering the stadium will be tracked by a system of 15,000 facial recognition-enabled cameras.
The concept, FIFA said, is meant to help organizers predict crowd surges and deal with overcrowding, which they claim is the “future of stadium operations.” However, the surveillance apparatus is using technology reminiscent of that deployed by the controversial firm Clearview AI.
With the Biden-administration’s recent attempt to nudge use of the technology toward its preferred values and practices with the AI Bill of Rights, it could mean that technology will look very different when the World Cup comes to the United States in 2026.