Now – in what could be a world first – artificial intelligence has been used to develop an entirely new outdoor sport from scratch, complete with rules, regulations and a playing field with goals (called “doors”). The entire effort, launched by design firm AKQA, took about two months, according to the company.
Blending elements of rugby, croquet, football and Ultimate Frisbee, Speedgate, as it is called, relies on collective cunning and strategy, according to Whitney Jenkins, creative director of AKQA. Each Speedgate team has six players, consisting of attackers and defenders, who attempt to throw a ball through the gates to score —— on either side of a long field. When using their hands to move the ball, passes should be made from below the waist. Scoring earns a team two points, although a trickier three-point play involving two teammates also exists.
“One thing we like is that it promotes teamwork,” Jenkins said, noting that the fast-paced game leaves players panting after a few minutes. “In a big basketball game, LeBron could steal the ball and take control of the entire game, but in Speedgate, that’s not possible. You have to have teammates to pass to, and the score is improved when he there is teamwork.
“Sportsmanship and gameplay are more important than who wins, and there is constant passing,” he added.
When the AKQA team used artificial intelligence to design a new sport, they weren’t sure what deep learning algorithms could create.
The team fed information about about 400 sports into a neural network – a set of algorithms designed to find underlying relationships by mimicking the way the human brain processes information – and waited for the AI to generate new concepts and rules. The team’s initial guidelines offered little direction: The developers wanted to create a sport that was easy to learn, accessible to different types of athletes, and could be played outdoors or on hard ground in a wheelchair. Team members narrowed the list down to three potential ideas that they tested in person, ultimately including more specific rules to make Speedgate playable.
Team members said they were shocked by the degree of creative absurdity – and extreme danger – inherent in some of the machine’s early, crude ideas.
- An explosive Frisbee relay where runners race on a track while discs that explode on impact are thrown at them.
- A hot air balloon-based sport in which players balance on a line attached between planes and pass balloons back and forth.
- “Pommel horse sawing.” Two people sit on pommel horses on either side of a giant log and swing back and forth with a saw.
- An underwater relay race.
- A form of rugby with obstacles that require gymnastic-like maneuvers to overcome (half parkour, half football).
Instead of exchanging jerseys like soccer players do at the end of a match, a long-standing tradition rooted in mutual respect, AI suggested a new tradition for Speedgate: each team cuts off the top of the field goal posts and exchange them before the match, not after.
The developers took each offbeat suggestion with enthusiasm, appreciating the AI’s ability to see possibilities so far from expectation that they sometimes seemed like the musings of a child’s imagination or dreamlike possibilities emanating from the human subconscious.
“We used AI as part of our creative team,” said Kathryn Webb, head of AKQA’s AI team. “We have a lot of things that didn’t make the cut and didn’t meet our criteria. They’re really just an expression of the creativity of artificial intelligence and things that have made us rethink the very nature of sport.
The developers used AI to come up with the name “Speedgate” and create the game’s logo, designed after feeding the AI with more than 10,000 examples of team paraphernalia.
For the finishing touch to Speedgate, the developers also asked AI to create an official currency. The result, oddly enough, seems to reflect the fluid nature of the new game:
“Face the ball to be the ball and be on top of the ball.”
Jenkins said the Oregon Sports Authority has recognized Speedgate as an official sport in the state of Oregon. He has received requests for additional information and questions about the sport’s rules from as far away as South America and Australia. The hope, he said, is that the game begins to spread quickly.
“I would like to see this as a high school and college intramural sport in the next few years,” he said. “Our big goal is that in five to ten years it won’t be uncommon to hear someone say, ‘Oh yeah, Speedgate, my kids are playing that!’ »