The pinnacle of sport is driving the promise of AI

AI is ranked as one of the top technologies that will drive business transformation over the next three years. 



Was the “drone show” the most memorable and globally visible technology moment at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea? Probably, given the number of people around the world who watched the Opening Ceremonies. But I was also fascinated by a storyline that played out on the ground and mostly away from the TV cameras.

For online viewers, there were numerous virtual reality broadcasts of major competitions. For spectators live on the grounds, there were drones doing security work, “smart gloves” for making cash payments, and robots offering customer services like logistical information and language translation. For Olympic athletes, there were team uniforms featuring novel heating systems and wearable sensors analyzing vitals and motion1.

Yet technology that really took center stage in my mind was artificial intelligence (AI). Driven by a multiyear partnership between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Alibaba Group, a Chinese internet powerhouse ranked fifth as a leader in driving innovation in KPMG’s 2018 Technology Innovation Survey, AI-powered solutions—underpinned by innovations in cloud technology, data intelligence and machine learning—are aimed at transforming the Olympics into a more personal and digital experience for organizers, competitors and fans alike. Artificial intelligence— sitting in the cloud and embedded into platforms, software and smart devices—will help event planners understand traffic and weather patterns to streamline and secure operations; assist visitors with personalized recommendations for restaurants and apparel; and support coaches and medical staff in using big data to track athlete health and performance. Although many of these plans were still in concept stage in PyeongChang, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who is ranked fourth among global technology innovation visionaries in KPMG’s 2018 Technology Innovation Survey, says they will be operational in time for the next 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, for which Alibaba will also be a sponsor2.

Artificial intelligence is not a new technology, but what Alibaba and the IOC introduced at these Games showcases some of the larger potential of AI beyond single applications in the market today. Applications, such as voice-activated digital assistants, are just the beginning.

As Alibaba’s transformative vision for the Olympics shows, AI is moving beyond tasks like finding you directions or ordering you dinner and rapidly becoming much more personal and relevant. New applications for AI continue to emerge, driven by a convergence of forces: computing power is increasing AI’s capabilities; the costs to develop and run AI-powered solutions are dropping; and new data—the lifeblood that feed AI’s knowledge base—is being created at an explosive rate. According to International Data Corporation, spending on AI is expected to reach $52.2 billion in 20213. And in KPMG’s Innovation Convergence Unlocks New Paradigms publication, AI is ranked by technology executives as one of the top technologies that will drive business transformation over the next three years. And business leaders in many industries are looking at how to implement AI to gain improved productivity and reduced costs, the top benefits cited in KPMG’s survey.

Alibaba’s Olympic model could potentially provide many learnings that apply to other industries outside of sports, including learnings about scalability, logistics and events of all types, as well as the AI-driven digital experience. From e-commerce to financial services to healthcare to telecom, I believe AI is poised to begin creating new market value across industries, displacing existing products and services and driving profound change in business and society. Personally, I think many more tactical AI applications will be deployed this year, from virtual agents doing increasingly complex tasks to new and more powerful methods for online research and discovery. Groundbreaking AI solutions will likely soon follow, such as machine-learning algorithms for detecting cancer better than doctors and AI-powered driverless cars that can perform better than humans in any situation.

So how can business leaders prepare for—and take advantage—of a much-changed future, in which AI touches so many aspects of our lives? It starts with recognizing that implementing artificial intelligence—from the first level to the most complex solutions—requires thinking about your entire operating model, not just the technology.

To learn more, I recommend our podcast on AI in the mainstream in 2018 and our report on accelerating automation.

For more KPMG insights on the intersection of leading-edge technologies and global sports, I encourage you to read the other articles in our series, “How technology and sports change the world.”

1 How Technology Will Transform The Olympics At PyeongChang (SportTechie, February 8, 2018)
2 Alibaba kicks off sponsor deal in Pyeongchang (Reuters, February 9, 2018)
3 International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Semiannual Cognitive Artificial Intelligence Systems Spending Guide, March 2018



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Tim Zanni

Tim Zanni

Global and U.S. Technology Sector Leader, KPMG US

+1 408-367-4100

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