Technology has eliminated many professions: telephone operator, travel agent and (increasingly) supermarket cashier. Hey, it's only a matter of time until machines perform every job, like in Kurt Vonnegut's sci-fi classic Player Piano. As for athletics, computer algorithms have "written" post-game recaps in colorful sportswriter prose. And coaching might be next.
Back in April, a group of Harvard computer programmers simulated a Bill Belichick press conference with artificial intelligence. In June, an Emerald City Basketball Academy coach mused that Microsoft's Xbox Kinect makes him unnecessary for basics such as dribbling, shooting and other repetitive motions. As TechCrunch explained:
"Observing an athlete’s form is essentially the same as spotting the correct outline of the human shape--the exact function that Kinect's dummy digital eye uses to recognize movement. ... In other words, it's not that Kinect is some Skynet-like genius, but that many of the tasks that 'experts' routinely perform are no more sophisticated than the assembly-line construction that robots replaced decades ago. Back then, robots replaced jobs that used our limbs; now they’re replacing [coaches'] eyes."
And last week, computer scientists at the University of Oslo unveiled a video and sensor system that tracks soccer teams across the field with GPS belts, analyzing their plays in real time.
"Normally, the entire analysis team would pore over extensive video recordings after the end of a match," says Dr. Dag Johansen. "This system makes it possible for [a coach] to put aside pen and paper and review action sequences then and there on his mobile phone without this affecting his coaching responsibilities."
Yes, coaches will continue to exist--for now--because the Nordic system is more about smart video cataloging than strategy recommendations. It cherry-picks seconds or minutes of useful, teachable footage from hours of mundane footage. And then coaches would send the clips to players, along with some tough love, via a private social network.
Until the next Mark Zuckerberg invents a tough love app, anyway, at which point it's all over for Belichick and Co.
Follow Guy Code on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr
Marty Beckerman (@martybeckerman) is the Associate Editor of Guy Code Blog