AKQA says it used AI to invent a new sport called Speedgate

At TechCrunch, we write about AI all the time, whether the technology is being used to write books, make films or create a better McDonald’s drive-thru. But here’s one we haven’t heard before: using AI to invent a new sport.

The sport in question is Speedgate, and it was developed by AKQA. Creative Director Whitney Jenkins explained that the digital agency wanted to do something “really ambitious” for Design Week Portland, and given the team’s work with Nike (and its general “love of sports or athleticism”), it made sense to ask: “What if we invented the next basketball, the next football?”

To do that, AKQA says it used an existing recurrent neural network architecture, feeding it data about 400 sports, which were then used to generate sports concepts and rules.

Many of those ideas, Jenkins said, were simply not feasible. The AI was good at coming up with descriptions for sports like “underwater parkour,” an exploding Frisbee game and one where players pass a ball back-and-forth while in hot air balloons and on a tightrope. But it took a back-and-forth process with the human team at AKQA to narrow the list down to the final three for playtesting, and then to refine the rules into something people might actually want to play.

“We know we can’t dangle 30 feet in the air, we understand the confines of what makes sense as a sport,” Jenkins said. Still, he insisted that Speedgate could never have been created by humans alone: “Using AI as a member of a creative team takes us to a new place, that we never could have gotten to without it.”

Speedgate logo

Speedgate logo

In addition to generating ideas and rules, AKQA also used AI to generate different logos for the sport. The agency’s AI Lead Kathryn Webb said they fed more than 10,400 sports logos into a deep convolutional generative adversarial network, getting 6,400 possible logos back.

“A team looked through those and took a lot of inspiration from them in terms of the shape of the logo and the color scheme,” Webb said. “It’s a nice example of going beyond the very text-focused stuff that you see quite a lot of.”

And going back to text, AI was even responsible for the sport’s motto, which has apparently been embraced by the initial players: “Face the ball to be the ball to be above the ball.”

The result of all that work is a sport where teams of six play on a field with large gates, passing and kicking the ball through the gates (but avoiding the center gate) to score. Jenkins said that while Speedgate isn’t meant to be derivative of any particular sport, “If I was talking to my buddy walking down the street, I would say that we used AI to create a new sport that pulls the best of rugby, soccer, ultimate frisbee and croquet.”

AKQA will be demonstrating and discussing Speedgate at an event in Portland at 6pm tonight. Jenkins said the team has hopes for Speedgate beyond Design Week, including discussions with the Oregon Sports Authority and a possible intramural league this summer.