AI News, "Big Data Culture" entries

"Big Data Culture" entries

Epstein draws on examples from individual sports (including track and field, winter sports) and major U.S. team sports (baseball, basketball, and American football), and uses the latest research to explain how data and science are being used to improve athletic performance.

In a recent episode of the O’Reilly Data Show Podcast, I spoke with Epstein about his book, data science and sports, and his recent series of articles detailing suspicious practices at one of the world’s premier track and field training programs (the Oregon Project).

topics which Epstein has written about and studied extensively: One of the most important findings in sports genetics is that your ability to improve with respect to a certain training program is mediated by your genes, so it’s really important to find the kind of training program that’s best tailored to your physiology.

Pattern recognition and sports data

Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.One of my favorite books from the last few years is David Epstein’s engaging tour through sports science using examples and stories from a wide variety of athletic endeavors.

Epstein draws on examples from individual sports (including track and field, winter sports) and major U.S. team sports (baseball, basketball, and American football), and uses the latest research to explain how data and science are being used to improve athletic performance.

In a recent episode of the O’Reilly Data Show Podcast, I spoke with Epstein about his book, data science and sports, and his recent series of articles detailing suspicious practices at one of the world’s premier track and field training programs (the Oregon Project).

topics which Epstein has written about and studied extensively: One of the most important findings in sports genetics is that your ability to improve with respect to a certain training program is mediated by your genes, so it’s really important to find the kind of training program that’s best tailored to your physiology.

Oftentimes, they compare an array of metrics that riders have generated in recent editions of the tour to similar metrics from the “doping era.” Teams and officials previously labeled their efforts as pseudoscience, only to backtrack when it turned out that their power output estimates were extremely accurate.

This has led to calls for teams and riders to provide more transparency by supplementing biological passports with the release of “training and racing log files.” As Epstein noted, this type of comparative data would be insufficient in a court case, and in many situations good old-fashioned investigative journalism (sources and leaks) is what ultimately exposes cheaters.

Nevertheless, it’s still good to see cycling fans engage with and pressure teams and race organizers, to release more data: In those past eras of doping, like in the Lance Armstrong era, you look at what happens when the EPO test comes in and suddenly power outputs plummet.

Epstein pointed out that cheating can turn off fans, and it also makes comparative and longitudinal studies difficult to do: People used to say women are going to catch up on men when they have more opportunity, but actually men are pulling away now.

Review: ‘The Sports Gene,’ on the science of athletic performance, by David Epstein

His “simple reaction time” is nothing special, but he has amassed a vast “mental database” about big league pitching that effectively enables him to “see into the future.” He guesses — no, he knows — exactly where and when a ball will cross home plate.

In his fascinating book “The Sports Gene,” David Epstein — a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and a former college runner — comes to a compelling if not surprising conclusion: Nature and nurture are both essential ingredients for athletic achievement.

“Sport skill acquisition does not happen without both specific genes and a specific environment, and often the genes and the environment must coincide at a specific time.” Of course, software and environment can cover many factors — fair and unfair.

Distance runners know, for example, that there’s a “sweet spot,” between 6,000 and 9,000 feet, “where the air is thin but not too thin.” Training at that altitude increases lung capacity in a legitimate way.

But others, from cyclists to baseball players, have tried to enhance their “software” through drugs, not dedication, and policing those cheaters is a major problem for many sports.

And over countless generations of natural selection, those Africans reproduced traits well adapted to their environment: long legs, short torsos, narrow pelvic bones.

One small region of Jamaica has produced “an extravagant number of the world’s top sprinters.” Many are descendants of escaped slaves from Africa who created a fierce warrior culture in a remote corner of the island.

Sports are a huge business with vast profits at stake, and success at the most elite level demands highly specialized and hard-to-find body types — not just sport by sport, but position by position.

“As the expanding universe of sports physiques has sped outward,” Epstein writes, “finding those increasingly rare bodies has fostered an increasingly extensive, and expensive, global talent search.” A

The very tall parents of Yao Ming, the gigantic Chinese basketball player, were “brought together for breeding purposes by the Chinese basketball federation.” An intriguing footnote: Some of world’s best pure athletes are Alaskan sled dogs, and they have been heavily bred for one quality above all — not speed or strength, but desire.

"O’Reilly Data Show Podcast" entries

Like many data scientists, I’m excited about advances in large-scale machine learning, particularly recent success stories in computer vision and speech recognition.

While it can sometimes be nice to mimic nature, in the case of the brain, machine learning researchers recognize that understanding and identifying the essential neural processes is much more critical.

A related example cited by machine learning researchers is flight: wing flapping and feathers aren’t critical, but an understanding of physics and aerodynamics is essential.

She points out that a more meaningful goal should be to “extract and integrate relevant neural processing strategies when applicable, but also identify where there may be opportunities to be more efficient.” The goal in technology shouldn’t be to build algorithms that mimic neural function.

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance Paperback – April 29, 2014

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