10 July 2018

The Rise of the Bots: BPA host second panel event

The Rise of the Bots

The British Paralympic Association (BPA) hosted its second panel event on Tuesday discussing ‘The Rise of the Bots: is Technology the Key to Success in Sport and Business’.

The discussion followed the inaugural panel event in 2017 which explored whether ethics had lost their place on and off the field of play.

Hosted by BPA Chief Executive Tim Hollingsworth the expert panel comprised Virgin Media managing director Jeff Dodds, three-time Paralympian Stef Reid MBE, ASOS chief executive Nick Beighton and director of the advanced wellbeing research centre at Sheffield Hallam Professor Steve Haake.

The lively discussion explored a host of questions around the rise of technology and the potential practical and ethical implications it can have on the world of sport and business.

“A quick count of the devices in the home that are constantly connecting to the internet and creating data is incredible,” said Dodds. “We are currently growing consumption of the internet by 30-40% a year.

“If you were growing your consumption of a natural resource by that amount we’d be in a crisis but we are constantly investing in infrastructure.

“This means that the knowledge on the planet could double every 12 hours. Prior to 1900 it would take a century for the knowledge on the planet to increase by that amount.”

Jeff Dodds and Stef Reid

Exponential growth

With the exponential increase in technology Professor Haake believes the key is to put a framework in place to ensure good outcomes in relation to sport.

“Elite athletes spend their time trying to figure out how to get better. But we need to look at what the rules say because the rules tell us what we can and can’t do.

“Early in a sport’s journey technology lets a sport happen, it enables, and allows you to compete. But performance then starts to level off and we start to think about how technology can enhance.

“From there you could point to examples like altitude training which leads to O2 tents and then someone suggests taking blood and storing it and adding it back to the body so it becomes an ethical question.”

Nick Beighton added: “Technology gives you unlimited access to anything 247. You cannot ignore it as it powers the human journey, but we need rules for it and that is especially true in sport.”

But technology doesn’t give an athlete or a business an immediate advantage.

“Technology can change the landscape faster than some people are comfortable with,” world champion long jumper Reid said.

“I know what it is like to run with two real legs and what its like to run with one artificial leg and one real one.

“Blades aren’t magic. Sometimes there is this idea that when we strap them on we are suddenly really fast or can jump really far but the truth is if you were a bad runner with two legs then you’ll be worse with a blade.

Stef Reid at Rio 2016

Harmony between humans and machines

“I have to have the best blade I can possibly have but as important as it is it’s not crucial to success. A lot of the time it is just trial and error.”

The key then would be to create truly harmonious relationship between humans and technology.

“I have not met a business problem that cannot be solved with data,” Dodds added. “But the human has to ask the right questions to extract the right information for artificial intelligence to interpret.”

Ultimately, from both a sport and business perspective, the right expertise needs to be in place at the highest level to ensure that legislation is able to keep pace with the constant progression in technology and the wide-reaching implications it can have for society as a whole.

The third event in the series will take place towards the end of the year and the BPA looks forward to another lively debate.

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