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The Moneyball of You

This month’s issue of ESPN The Magazine features a flattering yet realistic description of the challenges faced by the Jacksonville Jaguars analytics team and its leader, Tony Khan.

The comparisons of my beloved Jags and the Oakland Athletics of Moneyball fame are many. Small market teams struggling to compete seek a competitive edge using an “unproven” method that contradicts the “gut” of old school types.

Yet, from a data science perspective, football is far different from baseball. The ESPN article says this:

“At the heart of baseball is a one-on-one battle — pitcher vs. batter — that allows for easy collection of clean, accurate, predictive data. In football, though, there are 22 moving parts on each play, along with an infinite number of variables, including score, field position and down and distance.”

In football it is difficult to collect data on all the possible variables that could be influencing the outcomes we are attempting to forecast. From a data perspective, football is messy, inconsistent and blurry but not unpredictable. Football is like life.

Football, like life, is about to change.

The football field of 2018 will look a lot the same…except for the sensors. Every player will have helmets that monitor impacts and brainwave activity. Shoulder pads will record body temperature and heart rate. Every player’s exact position and speed on the field will be recorded by GPS, and Google Glass-like recordings will be made on every play by every player on the field.

When the data becomes as dynamic as the game, a strange thing happens.

The Tony Khan’s of the world will no longer reside in the windowless bowels of NFL stadiums but will run game day war rooms alongside coordinators…the real-time data pouring in and being processed instantly. Khan will use this data to score potential plays and personnel packages based on their probability of success and deliver a menu of “best chance” plays to Jaguar coaches.

Think that sounds like science fiction? To see how ubiquitous sensors have become in our daily lives, I want you to do an experiment for me. Take your phone out of your pocket and try to count all its sensors:

Camera, spectrometer (light sensor), GPS, accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope, clock, WiFi.

All these sensors turn the seemingly random and chaotic activities of our lives into neat, structured data.

Authors Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier call this trend of measuring our live “datatization.” Datatization means that you will have access to incredibly detailed information and analytics about you. Want to know what evening habits lead to your best nights of sleep? Want to know at what temperatures you are most likely to feel happy? Want to predict your likelihood of divorce? Its already possible and this is only the start.

The next generation of wearable computers will increase the amount of datatization a thousand-fold. Today’s sensors measure our outside world, and tomorrow’s will datatize our inner world.

Google Glass can see what you see. Biometric bracelets will report heart rate and body temperature. Our physiological and mental condition will be datatized and mashed up with data about our driving, web browsing, eating and shopping habits to reveal hidden insights into our lives.

It’s the Moneyball of you and you will be the Tony Khan of your own life.

*Awesome Data Cat cartoon from ESPN.com (http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2013/0819/mag_jags-illo01jr_400.jpg)

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