How The US Open Is Embracing Cognitive Computing

The tournament is rivalling Wimbledon in terms of digital proficiency

Recently, we published a piece on the Wimbledon Championship’s claim to be one of the most digitally astute sporting events in the world. It is, with Hawk-Eye refereeing and other technological advancements, fully embraced by the tennis’ oldest tournament. But, with the mandate of a strong commitment to IBM’s Watson - a machine learning/cognitive computing platform - the US Open is coming for Wimbledon’s crown.

Used in the background at Wimbledon (largely to monitor social media and identify trends in fan narrative), Watson is currently making its debut as a fully fledged part of a tennis tournament, acting as what Digital Trends called a ‘cognitive concierge within the games’ official mobile apps.’ Guests will be able to ask the Guest Services within the mobile app questions as they would a real person, such as the nearest bathroom or different food stalls within the grounds. The system will learn from each interaction and be able to offer a more honed, helpful response with every usage.

Noah Syken, vice president of Global Sponsorships and Client Executive Programs at IBM, said: ’We’re excited to introduce IBM Watson’s game-changing cognitive computing power to the US Open’s digital platform. Watson is revolutionizing the way fans can navigate the tournament this year. By tapping into unstructured data, Watson is enabling us to extract and apply insights that can improve how people engage with technology on-site, making their experiences more meaningful and natural.’

Data has been very deliberately placed ‘at the heart of the US Open digital experience,’ according to Noah. The company’s website highlights the fact that though 700,000 will experience the tournament first hand, some 15 million others will keep up via one of the IBM-powered digital platforms, which give real-time information about the matches in progress, video highlights, analysis and statistics around the event. But Watson is the jewel in the crown, and it will be interesting to see how guests feel about interacting with Watson as opposed to, say, a warden at the tournament.

Fans at home will have engagement with the cognitive technology, too. Watson is being used to speed up the output of digital content and make the content more accessible. For example, the technology can automatically generate captioning for the tournament’s on-demand videos, and its facial recognition technology will be able to identify celebrities and players when compiling and publishing content. These capabilities all give the United States Tennis Association the upper hand in terms of delivering digital content to the public at speed.

‘We want to ensure that fans know that we are the source for all things US Open, that they’re not going to any competitive websites or other digital outlets to get it from someone else,’ said Kirsten Corio, the USTA’s managing director of ticket sales and digital strategy. ‘We want it to be from a source that is fast as possible, and IBM is great at helping us do that.’

Watson, along with cognitive computing more widely, is working its way into the mainstream. Fans at a number of 2016’s sporting events will have some contact with Watson, a technology that could revolutionize the way customers and guests interact with companies and events. IBM is pushing Watson to developers and making it easy for the technology to be integrated into existing solutions, so expect to hear a lot more from cognitive computing as the year progresses.

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