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Olympics-Games’ broadcaster embracing AI but remains wary of deepfakes

photo of olympics
A man walks near a flag with the logo of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris, France, March 25, 2024. (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File photo)
By Richa Naidu | REUTERS

As part of a push by the International Olympic Committee to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) in Paris, the Games’ broadcaster is stepping up its use of the technology — but not without concerns about the risk of “deepfakes”.

Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), which produces the live television, radio and digital coverage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games that is then sold to clients, first began using AI at the PyeongChang Winter Games in 2018.

“In Paris we will take this to a completely different level,” Yiannis Exarchos, OBS chief executive, told Reuters at an event in London on Friday to discuss the role AI will play at the Paris 2024 Games.

“There are a variety of applications, primarily to do with enhancing the experience of the viewer, but also creating significant efficiencies in the way we operate.”

Exarchos said OBS had teamed up with Chinese retail giant and Olympic sponsor Alibaba to use AI for 360-degree assisted replays. It is also working with Swiss watchmaker Omega, the official timekeeper of the Paris Games, for “enhanced data…whether that’s additional explanations generated by AI or following athletes.”

OBS is also working with chip maker Intel to generate fast, AI-originated highlights. “The Olympics has a huge amount of content so our broadcasters will be able to generate very, very fast highlights of different events per country, per athlete, per sport, per mood, and customize the experience for the audience whether it is traditional television or social,” Exarchos said.

As use of AI continues to expand globally, deepfake technology to create digital fabrications has followed.

Deepfakes are synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness using AI techniques. They are usually extremely realistic, making it hard to distinguish between real and manipulated media.

This can and has led to impersonation, fraud, blackmail and the spread of misinformation and propaganda.

When asked if he was worried that enhancing video could lead to fakes, Exarchos said he was very concerned about “tampering with reality” and was focused on protecting against deepfakes.
“We need to fully protect the integrity of competition… that would be a risk for sports,” said Exarchos, who has led OBS since 2012.

The service’s broadcasting clients include some of the biggest media companies in the world, including NBC.

“They (OBS’s clients) recognize this risk exists… they are taking a number of measures to protect the Olympic content from any such possibilities,” Exarchos added.

“The concerns that fans have is very legitimate. I am a huge believer in the possibilities of technology but precisely because I understand how technology can be wrong, I think we all need to be vigilant. We need to go to trusted sources to get our information.

“In the Olympics we fully protect the authenticity of the video, so we do not tamper with it,” Exarchos said, adding that the protection and management of the IOC-owned content is “of utmost importance.”

Editor’s Note: Reporting by Richa Naidu; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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