Podcast: The Running Man, Rollerball, and Control of Digital Arenas

Back in high school, there was a teacher who said students were more likely to know the stats of athletes or stories about celebrities than remember historical facts or embrace math and science. His critique was not entirely wrong: Popular interests often become points of focus for the masses. The populace craves more ways to dissect and understand the action on the field as well as have some sense of what might come next.

So, there is little surprise that significant computing power is used to examine athletic performances from specific plays by individuals to season-long team results. This helps fans better understand sports from different angles and enhance their enjoyment. Dedicated fans might plan significant amounts of their personal time around sports, commit to fantasy leagues, and naturally spend money.

The role of technology in sports is likely to grow further as the size of this market continues to expand. According to Statista, global sports revenue hit $486.6 billion in 2022, is expected to top $512.1 billion in 2023, and is projected to reach $623.6 billion by 2027. As long as competitors take to the track or field, it seems there will be an audience hungry to watch and also engage in related content.

With the likes of IBM crunching sports data provided by football, tennis, and other professional leagues and associations, even AI gets put to work processing information to feed the public’s desire to be part of the game.

The intersection of sports and technology can take a few shadowy turns in certain science fiction. The 1987 adaptation of The Running Man and the 1975 movie Rollerball both depicted futures where viewership of intense sports — in these cases gladiatorial-style events — was key to controlling and influencing the public.

This does not mean IBM’s Watson is secretly oppressing the public via sports data. However, Rollerball and The Running Man did predict the power that deepfakes, generative AI, and media distraction can have if left unchecked and unquestioned.

Listen to the full podcast here

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