IBM’s Watson AI Can’t Completely Replace Video Editors at US Open–Yet

Screen from IBM's SlamTracker application for detecting the highlights of tennis matches.

[Barron’s contributor Nathaniel Wice was at the U.S. Open in New York Wednesday night at an event sponsored by IBM, and filed this report for Tech Trader.]

As the thrilling upset unfolded Wednesday night of #1-ranked Roger Federer by #24-seeded Juan Martín del Potro, the upper decks led the stadium singing, “Olé, olé, olé, olé, Delpo, Delpo!” and IBM (IBM) SlamTracker dutifully  reported that Federer was still winning two-to-one on Twitter (TWTR) with hashtag mentions.

This is the 28th year IBM is sponsoring the US Open to woo press and clients, but the highlight of the visit for tech-heads has been moved away from the corporate box where it’s usually found to a data operations room down a cinderblock hallway in the bowels of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

IBM’s showcase feature this year has Watson, the quasi-personified, catch-all marketing term for IBM’s data-analysis services, compiling its own video highlights. Watson analyzes the ESPN broadcast feed for cheering and for player gestures, along with the significance of the point in the match, to compute a rankable « Excitement Score » for every video clip.

The idea is to identify a big come-from-behind break point or electrifying rally, in the process demonstrating IBM capabilities that might be useful, say, to a retailer or manufacturer for learning from aisle traffic or shop-floor activity.

IBM's A.I. command center inside the Arthur Ashe Center during the U.S. Open tournament.

Another Watson-powered feature combines the same point-by-point, match-by-match data feed — Madison Keys wins with an ace; CoCo Vandeweghe errs at the net — with automated analytics like the running match count of total aces. (Try it out for yourself in the free US Open 2017 app or at the U.S Open site.)

Watson’s nascent artificial intelligence also makes stabs at strategic commentary based on the ongoing gameplay in the context of eight years of Grand Slam Tennis data, such as where Nadal tends to hit winners, how many second-serve points he can afford to lose, whether he’s rushing the net more than usual, though you’d expect more from a real live Joe Buck.

“We’re using sports as a platform to perfect this,” says IBM’s sports marketing manager Elizabeth O’Brien.

In the meantime human video editors may still find employment for the time being: O’Brien reports with amusement that Watson was compiling odd highlights for Venus Williams until the IBM team realized Watson thought that Venus was pumping her fist in victory when she was merely reaching in between games for a towel.

The US Open concludes this weekend with the Women’s Final on Saturday afternoon and the Men’s on Sunday.

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