AI researchers sometimes refer to machine learning technology as “fragile.” By this, they mean that artificial intelligence lacks human understanding of the complexities of the real world, with the end result being that AI systems sometimes break down in quick and unexpected ways.
For a more practical illustration of what ‘fragility’ means, let’s just consider the case of the AI camera operator deployed by the Scottish football team Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC. When the pandemic prevented fans from attending matches, the club announced they would broadcast their matches live, using an automatic camera system with “built-in AI and ball-tracking technology” to make sure people always get the best view of the action.
But, in a recent live broadcast of matches, camera operator AI on several occasions (and with great effect) mistook a linesman’s bald head for the soccer ball itself. In a compilation video below with a excellent soundtrack, you can see the end result. It’s like the AI has a crush on the Linesman and can’t help but zoom in on his shiny handsome bonce.
Pixellot, the company that makes the camera technology used by Inverness Caledonian Thistle, has confirmed The edge that the problem was caused by visual similarities between the linesman’s head and the soccer ball. They noted that the camera angle didn’t help, as it made the linesman’s head look like it was inside the boundaries of the field and the game ball itself was yellow, which added to the confusion. The company said the error was fixed shortly after the game ended.
“Last month, we produced 105,000 hours of live sports without any staff on site. That’s around 50,000 games, ”the spokesperson said. “In one of the games there was indeed a tracking issue which has been resolved.”
But again, this is why AI is sometimes referred to as brittle. A human would never make this mistake, but a machine learning system with limited understanding of soccer balls and human anatomy would. And while this particular example is a lot of fun, these kinds of mistakes can happen to any AI system. This error is eerily similar, for example, to some mistakes made by self-driving cars that caused fatal crashes. In one case, Tesla’s “autopilot” software failed to distinguish between the white side of a truck and the sky.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle does not employ a cameraman as their camera is programmed to follow the ball throughout the game. The commentator had to apologize today as the camera continued to confuse the ball with the linesman’s head … pic.twitter.com/LeKsc2bEj7
– Tom Cox (@ seagull81) October 24, 2020
Yeah missed our goal, my team Ayr Utd kept thinking Lino’s bald head was the ball
– Scott K.⚽️ (@ skayr100) October 26, 2020
According to tweets from the match itself (seen via IFLScience), the situation was so bad that the game commentator had to apologize for the camera malfunction at one point. One fan even said he missed watching his team’s score due to the AI’s lack of focus.
Update November 5 at 4:30 a.m.ET: Updated story with confirmation from Pixellot on the nature of the error.