Robots were used to judge this year’s World Artistic Gymnastics Championships

By Alma Fabiani

Published Oct 16, 2019 at 07:00 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

This year, the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships were held in Stuttgart, Germany, from 4 October to 13 October. Almost unnoticeable, were robots spread among the crowd of visitors. Don’t let your imagination run wild, the bleachers weren’t scattered with Terminator lookalikes. Instead, 30 rectangular grey boxes were assembled around the gymnasium’s floor, small and discreet enough to ignore. But to many, these boxes hold more significance—this could be “the beginning of the new history of gymnastics,” declared the President of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), Morinari Watanabe. But what does the new history of gymnastics entail? A much-needed change in another industry affected by corruption.

The use of sophisticated new technology in major competitions and sporting events is something that has become quite common, especially in football and tennis. Video assistant referee (VAR) technology was, at first, subject to many critics, but it ended up sticking around, because it is undeniably fairer and more objective. Even when it comes to gymnastics, video technology was already being used to judge and analyse. But, until now, full video review was only used after a competition to judge the judges’ performance, not the athletes’, as judges could favour athletes from their own federations or dislike a specific athlete. In the last few years, judges’ malpractice has plagued gymnastics competitions (the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens being the biggest example). That’s where artificial intelligence comes in.

This newly-introduced technology, invented and designed by the Japanese company Fujitsu, can measure height, body angles, and the number of degrees by which a gymnast splits her legs, in three dimensions, and from any direction. The small boxes go as far as measuring whether a rotation is complete and count whether a certain position is held for three seconds or not.

Image-shared-by-Fujitsu with the New York Times

In Stuttgart, the set of three-dimensional laser sensors tracked the movements of each of the 547  participating gymnasts from 92 different nations. Before the event, gymnasts had their bodies digitally scanned by Fujitsu for the new technology to be able to analyse every little bit of data the athletes generate while competing. That data was then fed to an AI system accessible to the human judges. The system analysed skeletal positions and speeds as the athletes went through their movements. Because the Fujitsu technology has been successfully used at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, it is now said to be potentially implemented at the 2020 Olympic Games.

Although it is only here as a support for human judges for now, this technology could soon replace judges altogether. This means the nature of judged sports, such as gymnastics, diving, synchronised swimming, figure skating, snowboard, ski jumping and freestyle skiing, would change. But with any type of change come worries, and people seem to always react strongly when AI gets involved—be that in art, religion, or even in fashion. For gymnastics, sceptics already fear that the technology could help people manipulate results in an even more transparent way than before, while others believe in the possibility that it would erase any type of corruption.

The real question is will there be a time when human judges are eliminated completely? It stays unclear, but at the moment, AI is not yet sophisticated enough to completely replace human judges. Amplifying human intelligence with artificial intelligence has the potential of helping civilisations flourish, as well as reducing human error. Still, intelligence also enables control, and there is always the possibility that, one day,  AI could turn competent and develop goals misaligned with ours. Managing and keeping technology beneficial only depends on us. Then again, this argument could be put aside when used in sports or artistic industries, for artistry and mastery can’t only be examined through skills, but also based on the emotion they evoke in humans—something that robots have not attained just yet.

Keep On Reading

By Abby Amoakuh

The Summer I Turned Pretty star Gavin Casalegno blasted over liking sexist and transphobic posts

By Abby Amoakuh

Is Donald Trump going to jail? A full breakdown of his impending legal doom

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Strippers’ bill of rights: Understanding the new law protecting adult dancers in Washington State

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Woman born with two uteri expecting a child in both, a one in 50 million chance

By Fleurine Tideman

Is BeReal dead? We asked two social media experts and the app’s COO to find out

By Alma Fabiani

All the terrifying AI videos made using OpenAI’s Sora so far

By Abby Amoakuh

Khloé Kardashian blasts Kris Jenner over cheating scandal in episode 4 of The Kardashians

By Abby Amoakuh

Sydney Sweeney sex tape leak malware used as bait by hackers on Twitter

By Charlie Sawyer

Doritos faces boycott over new trans brand ambassador’s alleged tweet about 12-year-old

By Charlie Sawyer

Who is Gypsy Rose Blanchard’s husband and why is the former convict now a social media icon?

By Abby Amoakuh

Muslim Germans feel censored and alienated as the country continues to ignore its Islamophobia problem

By Abby Amoakuh

Newly leaked documents suggest Putin is ready to start World War 3

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Here’s why Homer is not going to strangle Bart in The Simpsons anymore

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Gen Z on TikTok are quitting vaping in solidarity with Congo

By Abby Amoakuh

Watch the first official trailer for Netflix’s new reality TV show, Squid Game: The Challenge

By Abby Amoakuh

Far-right influencers try to bail out Elon Musk as Disney and Apple leave X due to antisemitism claims

By Charlie Sawyer

Singer Luke Combs sickened to hear about his team’s $250K lawsuit against loyal fan, offers to help

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

UK police investigating case of 16-year-old girl’s virtual gang rape in metaverse

By Alma Fabiani

Alicia Keys surprises London commuters with piano performance at St Pancras train station

By Jack Ramage

Is your boss tripping on acid? New research suggests so