Throughout the history of triathlon new technology has been at the forefront of faster times and
enthralling races. Every decade or two in triathlon something really big comes along and changes the landscape of both racing and training. Whether it has been the adoption of carbon bikes or even carbon plated shoes, triathlon is a sport that has always thrived on technological advancements. I am sure you’re aware of the current situation with AI and how it is changing the world as we know it but have you ever thought about What does AI mean for the future of triathlon?
I have been asking experts in a variety of fields what AI means for triathlon and I have come to some interesting conclusions. Before I delve into the article I want to clarify some things. AI is not at a point where it is able to give you training advice. Always get you advice from your coach or from a reputable triathlon publication. Although potentially able to change the sport, AI should be used with extreme caution.
Understanding AI in sports
AI or artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence by machines. This sounds useful but not something that will change triathlon. But when you consider the fact that AI can learn from itself the possibilities are endless. This means that there is no limit to how smart AI can get and when you think about it in the context of triathlon, that’s when it gets really exciting.
Imagine all the thinking that goes into the perfect training plan. It is a data based process based on how an athlete responds to each piece of training. Humans can do this task to a degree but it still remains a process of trial and error. This trial and error is not ideal for the athletes training. Imagine if we could get AI to perfectly judge exactly what training is optimal for an athlete as well as use data collected from wearable trackers to perfectly recommend how much sleep, food and muscle activation an athlete needed. Imaging if with the power of AI, you could identify how often someone needed a massage and which coach would be best for them. This would be game changing. It would take the idea of marginal gains and really push it to the limit.
This could be more than just a distant fantasy. AI development is moving at an unbelievable rate and this sort of game changing tech could be just around the corner.
The human element in coaching
Having AI in the arsenal of an athlete can be truly game changing but that’s not to say that human element in coaching is not needed. Having help from a human coach is something that I think will always be needed. Whether it is the emotional side of training and competing or the fact that AI can make mistakes and needs to check human coaches are essential.
When thinking about the human element in training it is important to think about it not just from a purely training focused point of view. Coaches are essential for keeping us on track and emotionally sound. Imagine if your coach at your triathlon or running club was replaced with a robot possessed with the mission of improving your performance. It wouldn’t work out and would lead to a decline in both enjoyment and performance.
I recently caught up with 1500m world champion Josh Kerr and in our interview he told me about how irreplaceable a coach is. Josh explained that a training plan made with a variety of factors like enjoyment as well as performance is what yields the best results.
According to the AI expert I spoke to, AI is not yet at a point of general intelligence. This would be when an AI would be able to think completely like a human in terms of empathy and a regard for athlete enjoyment. General intelligence is right now just a distant ambition and is what will be required for the creation of optimal training plans and workouts.
Will AI turn triathlon into a pay to win sport?
In triathlon right now athletes have the option to spend tens of thousands of pounds on bikes, shoes and wetsuits. This is obviously not possible for the vast majority of triathletes and leads to an unlevel playing field. With the presence of any sort of kit this is inevitable but AI is likely to make this significantly more impactful and profound.
When AI has the kind of capabilities I have been talking about in the previous part of this article it will inevitably come at a cost to the athlete. It will have taken millions to develop and the big companies that own the tech will be eager to capitalize on it. Which leaves us in a situation where athletes can not only improve their kit with money but also improve their own physical fitness and triathlon ability with money. Is this right?
The future landscape of AI in triathlon
The future for AI in triathlon is exciting as well as being potentially very worrying. AI is not yet at a point where it can provide perfect training plans but it will someday get to that point. And when it does I truly think that the record books will be completely rewritten as well as the gap between the select few that will have access to the best form of this revolutionary technology. If we see AI continue to develop at this rate the possibilities are truly limitless.
In conclusion, AI is a revolutionary tool with the power to change triathlon in a similar way in which carbon plated shoes and carbon framed bikes have done in the past. Using the power of AI athletes and coaches will one day be able to use the power of AI to analyse large amounts of athlete data to strike the perfect balance between training and recovery. Although it is not yet clear when not if this scenario will become reality it is coming and it will change triathlon as we all know it. Even with the immense power of this new tool it is important to remember that AI is not yet at a point where it is able to do all the things I have talked about. Remember that your coach is the best source of knowledge and advice.
When AI is capable of all these things caution and prioritization of facts from reputable sources must come first. Along with the potential risks come massive rewards for the athletes that will one day fork out the cash to get access to a triathlon specific AI. This has the potential to further triathlon’s position as a pay to win sport which isn’t quite ideal. Overall the future for AI is exciting and one that could change triathlon forever. Read more from me on my site.