Viral Shah of Julia Computing: “With so much competition for fan attention”

With so much competition for fan attention, many sports are faced with declining revenues due to declines in viewership, event attendance, merchandise and advertising revenue. Technology can help in a number of ways: 1) by improving performance, technology can make the sport more exciting; 2) by providing new metrics, new visualizations and new ways of […]

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With so much competition for fan attention, many sports are faced with declining revenues due to declines in viewership, event attendance, merchandise and advertising revenue. Technology can help in a number of ways: 1) by improving performance, technology can make the sport more exciting; 2) by providing new metrics, new visualizations and new ways of viewing sporting events, technology can bring fans closer to the action and give them a different or better perspective; 3) by providing more channels and ways to watch events, it’s easier than ever to watch at your convenience — when and where you want to.


New technologies have changed the way we engage in and watch sports. Sensors, Wearable Tech, Video Assistant Referees (VAR), and Instant Replay, are examples of new technologies that have changed the way we play and watch sports. In this interview series called, “The Future of Sports; New Emerging Technologies That Are Disrupting The World Of Sports,” we are talking to sports leaders, athletes, sports tech experts, and sports equipment companies who can talk about the new technologies that are reshaping the sports world.

As a part of this interview, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Viral B. Shah.

As Co-creator of the Julia language and Co-founder/CEO of Julia Computing, Dr. Viral B. Shah sees the endless possibilities from multiple continents in the sports industry and all the way around the world to outer space, infinity and beyond.

Dr. Shah was the 2019 recipient of the James H. Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software for his work on Julia. Various areas in sports benefit from the free, open source platform Julia Computing thanks to its high performance with data analytics and two language solution. JuliaHub allows engineers and data scientists to easily turn any laptop/desktop into a virtual supercomputer with thousands of CPUs and GPUs available on demand on the cloud-based platform for modeling and simulation that power these innovations.

About Julia Computing and Julia:

Julia Computing’s mission is to develop products that bring Julia’s superpowers to its customers. Julia Computing’s flagship product is JuliaHub, a secure, software-as-a-service platform for developing Julia programs, deploying them, and scaling to thousands of nodes. It provides the power of a supercomputer at the fingertips of every data scientist and engineer. In addition to data science workflows, JuliaHub also provides access to cutting-edge products such as Pumas for pharmaceutical modeling and simulation, JuliaSim for multi-physics modeling and simulation, and JuliaSPICE for electronic circuit simulation, combining traditional simulation with modern SciML approaches.

Julia is the fastest high performance open source computing language for data, analytics, algorithmic trading, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other scientific and numeric computing applications. Julia solves the two language problem by combining the ease of use of Python and R with the speed of C++. Julia provides parallel computing capabilities out of the box and unlimited scalability with minimal effort. Julia has been downloaded by users at more than 10,000 companies and is used at more than 1,500 universities. Julia co-creators are the winners of the 2019 James H. Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software and the 2019 Sidney Fernbach Award. Julia has run at petascale on 650,000 cores with 1.3 million threads to analyze over 56 terabytes of data using Cori, one of the ten largest and most powerful supercomputers in the world.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My name is Viral Shah and I am a co-creator of the Julia language & Co-founder and CEO of Julia Computing. I am originally from Bombay, India and I designed the policies and the technology behind the Aadhaar-based payments system. Aadhaar is the Indian biometric identity system that provided proof of identity to half a billion Indians in its first 3 years and today has reached 1.3 billion Indians — more than 95 percent of the country. Based on this and other complex governance technology projects, I co-authored Rebooting India together with Nandan Nilekani, founding chairman of Aadhaar and co-founder and former CEO of Infosys. In 2019, my Julia co-creators and I received the James H. Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software for the creation of Julia. I received my doctoral degree in computational sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

On Valentine’s Day in 2012, we released Julia to the public with a blog post Why We Created Julia. At the time, there were two types of programming languages — those that were fast, like C, C++, Java and Fortran, and those that were easy to use — like Python and R. We wanted a single language that would have all the best features of all the existing languages. So we created Julia. Today, Julia has been downloaded more than 29 million times, there are more than 5,000 contributors, more than 6,000 registered packages, more than 200,000 GitHub stars and Julia is among the top ten languages created on GitHub (measured by stars and forks), and one of the top five most loved languages in the latest Stack Overflow developer survey — ahead of Python, R, Swift and Go.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Julia has a huge number of public good applications. I was one of the creators of Circuitscape.jl, which uses Julia to help plot animal, plant, human and genetic migration. This has been used to help design bridges to help endangered species travel safely between safe areas, and also to help model the effects of climate change on migration. Julia has also been used to help deliver blood supplies and medicine in hard to reach areas, improve aviation safety, unlock the mysteries of the cosmos, measure the effects of global climate change, expand the food supply, develop new drug treatments, plan missions to outer space, help school children sleep longer and do better in school, reduce electrical accidents and failures, model cancer evolution, develop custom medical treatments, improve medical diagnosis and empower surgeons with augmented reality.

Can you tell us about the sports technologies that most excite you at the moment? Can you explain why you are passionate about it?

Wearable technology has been hot for several years, but the reality hasn’t always lived up to the hype. What’s exciting about Racefox is that they are using Julia to improve the performance of everyone from world-class athletes to amateurs, and they have the results to prove it. Racefox uses Julia for digital sports coaching, and has been featured 3 times on the list of the 33 most innovative companies in Sweden.

Julia Computing’s partnership with the Williams Formula One racing team allows us to use Julia, the fastest and most productive high performance programming language for artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the performance of the world’s fastest race cars.

JuliaHub was featured on the Williams Formula One race car at the Hungarian Grand Prix in July-August 2021. JuliaHub allows engineers and data scientists to easily turn any laptop into a virtual supercomputer with thousands of CPUs and GPUs available on demand using the cloud. Formula One is at the cutting edge of innovation in aerodynamics, materials science, engine performance, fluid dynamics, modeling and simulation and Julia powers these innovations.

Gambit Research uses Julia for sports betting and high frequency trading. The parallels between betting on sports and betting on asset values may not be obvious, but both are fundamentally just about optimization — how to optimize your investment portfolio, whether you’re buying or selling equities, securities, currencies, commodities, or the outcome of a competitive sporting event.

How do you think this might change the world of sports?

In sports, the difference between winning and losing is often a fraction of a second. In optimization, tiny improvements can deliver outsized results. A faster, better optimization tool, like Julia, can generate millions of optimization scenarios in seconds and identify the optimal design, training strategy, material composition or aerodynamic configuration for each competition, using real-time data including temperature, altitude, heart rate, oxygen level, air quality and humidity.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Today there are a lot of concerns around privacy, artificial intelligence and algorithms that can reinforce bias and discrimination. These are real concerns. When operating in this area, we need to ensure that everything we do reflects these concerns. One way we do this is with representation — making sure that we include voices from all over the world, including privacy advocates and those who are often victims of discrimination. From the beginning of the Julia project, we wanted to help build a Julia community that is inclusive, diverse, and responsive to these issues. We’ve had extraordinary success. There are millions of Julia users worldwide, representing every country. And, fortunately for Julia and the community, there are thousands of active contributors who tackle these issues every day using community channels such as GitHub, Julia Discourse and Slack.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the sports industry today? Can you explain? What can be done to address or correct those concerns?

  1. When it comes to technology, many sports are still stuck in a rut. They’ve been doing things the same way for so long, and many of the trainers and coaches are resistant to change. The way to leap forward is to show them that technology is not a replacement for good training or coaching — it’s a complement.
  2. In the quest for victory, too many athletes, sponsors, coaches, trainers and managers don’t pay enough attention to the athletes’ health and safety — including mental health. But technology can be used to improve both health and safety. It can help identify when an athlete’s heart is working too hard, or when stress levels are too high. Instead of ‘just pushing through’ the pain, technology can be used to help prevent and treat serious injuries.
  3. With so much competition for fan attention, many sports are faced with declining revenues due to declines in viewership, event attendance, merchandise and advertising revenue. Technology can help in a number of ways: 1) by improving performance, technology can make the sport more exciting; 2) by providing new metrics, new visualizations and new ways of viewing sporting events, technology can bring fans closer to the action and give them a different or better perspective; 3) by providing more channels and ways to watch events, it’s easier than ever to watch at your convenience — when and where you want to.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Websites:

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Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!

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