Pessimism regarding upcoming artificially intelligent personal trainers (part 4)

Posted on April 7, 2017

(Last Updated On: April 7, 2017)

Sensors are unlikely the future. If there is one, it’s vision.

Our leg pressing study again-

“The restrictions of the presented approach are […] it is not possible to observe other pre-conditions like, for example, the correct sitting position or placement of the feet, which would be important parameters for the application of the implemented models in conjunction with the sensor-equipped leg press machine. Furthermore, the developed routines are not able to directly monitor the posture of the body throughout the movement including, for instance, the knee or upper body and particularly the lower back motions. Such factors, however, might be for example detected and assessed on the basis of the integration of other measuring devices such as goniometers, torsiometers or pressure sensors.

Nobody is going to want to have all that on them. The smart gym article linked earlier has an interesting idea with people wearing leotards full of sensors. (Some companies are working on this.) That’s better, but still eh. No matter what the marketing says, nothing breathes like nothing covering your skin.

A Kinect type vision system (a fancy camera) which can detect all this though? That’s amenable. But getting that system to be able to see from a variety of different angles? Or you wonder “what if all the sensors are in the equipment and not on people?”

The issue then is,


The more expensive a gym’s overhead, the less incentive the gym has to keep us there

There is an insidious nature to the gym business. Once signing up, the gym has no incentive to make sure you keep coming. The incentive is to hope you don’t show up! It’s one of the few businesses where you don’t want customers to use your product.

Using the product more means more maintenance for the equipment, it means not being able to sign as many members up due to gym space constraints. If you ever wondered why a gym seemed to give zero fucks about you once signing up, this is why. It’s not an accident.

-> Streaming services seem to qualify here. Sign up for Netflix, but don’t work their data centers by watching anything. The difference is there isn’t the guilt of canceling your streaming service like there is canceling the gym. So this might not be how Netflix really approaches business. Considering they now send push notifications to persuade you to watch something, I’d say it definitively isn’t.

And this is not cynicism. There are people who have gone on the record saying the point of their gym design is to get people in the door and sign up. Not for them to come in the door and workout. This is how a Planet Fitness which can hold ~300 people can have 6,500 members!

NPR’s Planet Money on low cost gyms

To give an approximation of how many people aren’t showing up: my experience says the busiest gym time is Monday – Thursday, 5 – 7pm. (If you don’t go at some point Monday – Thursday, you basically don’t go.) If we say 75% of a daily gym’s patrons show up at rush hour with a 300 person limit, then that’s 300 people between 5 – 7pm we can legally allow, meaning 400 people could visit the gym in a given day.

If these people come twice a week, then that’s max 800 members we could have. And this assumes Monday isn’t front loaded with members, which it seems to be. That is, for the members who show up, Monday will have the most participation. If they show up twice per week, it’ll most likely be Monday and some other day.  Meaning our membership limit would go down, because our concern is the single busiest time. We can’t, or at least we haven’t, have people sign up only allowed to show up certain days of the week.

e.g. 1500 members.

50% use the gym = 750 members.

75% of those who use the gym will show up on a Monday = 563 members.

75% of those who use the gym on a given day show up at rush hour = 421.

We’re already way over our capacity, with half of all members not showing up at all. (If all the members used the gym in the Monday percentages above, we could only have 533 members and still handle the rush hour of Monday.)

Regardless, even if we double this, where each member shows up for an hour, 300 show up 5 – 6pm and another 300 from 6 – 7pm, then that’s 800 people showing up per day, or 1600 members. (This couldn’t happen, because the chance of overlap is too high. You can’t have a gym which doesn’t allow members in due to overcapacity. At best, we may get 1200 members.) How much of a hit does Planet Fitness take financially with 5,000 less members?!

Putting all these sensors in every piece of equipment is going to be expensive. You have to buy them, maintain them, and pay an increased electricity bill.

The gyms more likely to implement these features are the gyms more likely to not want you to show up and use them. It’s no different than the facilities most likely to have televisions -big, commercial ones- are the gyms most likely to have terrible Yelp reviews due to how poorly they communicate with customers. Because they don’t want to communicate with you, because that means lowering their margins. They want your monthly fee and to never see or hear from you.

And if these sensors do get you to come to the gym more often? Prices will either go (likely way) up, making less people buy in, or the gym might take them out of the equipment!


Nine part series-

  • AI is neat. People are messy.
    • Are computers really as good as humans in chess / Go / poker?
  • Classification is done by people. Not AI. 
    • And people are fallible. 
  • Liability / Are we ok with machines telling us what to do? / Loneliness
    • It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. 
  • The more expensive the gym is the less incentive the gym has to keep us there
    • Why the gym hopes you never show up.
  • Improved performance methods aren’t too relevant / Improving performance filtering is a dangerous, superfluous, endeavor
    • Ed Sheeran laughs at predictive analytics. 
  • Why you’re unlikely to find the perfect program yourself, and why AI might not be better than a trainer
  • Machines can tell you what to do, but can they tell you why?
    • Thinking about why other countries have more trust in their healthcare system
  • The electricity bill could be insane
    • Incentives still matter. Voo doo economics. 
    • Is any company that says it’s green, actually?
  • While there are rules, like less metabolic costpeople bend them, and humans as a market are rather hard to predict
    • What happened to Xbox Kinect?


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