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Volume 21 No. 1
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IBM tests machine-based learning at Masters

IBM, Augusta National Golf Club’s longtime digital partner, is testing this week at the Masters an automated highlights system in which computers will cut and edit video clips based on data such as crowd noise, player gestures, and leaderboard shifts.

Marking a further entry into machine-based learning, IBM for the first time will use its technology to listen to and observe the tournament broadcast, and has developed algorithms that will automatically create highlight clips in a matter of seconds without human intervention. Among the cues IBM’s system will seek out are crowd roars, player fist pumps and high fives, and facial expressions.

The system will contain some components of IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence technology, but will primarily rely on other machine learning systems the company has developed. Most of the automated highlights generated at this year’s Masters will not be distributed publicly, but the company is seeking to test the concept for future events.

“This year is about proving we can use cognitive technology to identify the highlight,” said John Kent, program manager for IBM’s worldwide sports and entertainment partnership group. “And for something like a golf tournament, you can quickly see how this will test this at scale. You think about all that is happening around a golf course at any given time, and there is a real efficiency and speed this technology can provide.”

The system will automatically tag the clips as they are created based on factors such as the nationality of each player, where each player is on the leaderboard, the specific hole on the course, and the distance of each shot.

“This will eventually open up a wide array of options for a fan to deeply customize the highlights they’re able to consume,” Kent said.

IBM, partnered with the Masters since 1996, did not disclose its investment in the automated highlight system. It will not require additional equipment on course, but will rely on the existing infrastructure in place for the television broadcast.

The effort is part of a much larger digital rollout for the 81st version of the Masters, which begins Thursday. The company has developed a new Apple TV app for the connected TV platform that includes live video, highlights, leaderboards, condensed replays, interviews and other on-demand content.

The company has further tweaked its mobile apps to allow for greater immersion into video and live scoreboards, and a deeper live graphical tracking of each player, shot by shot. IBM has developed a VIP-level experience in the tournament’s press center in which it will showcase to invited guests several of its technologies, including Watson-powered, voice-activated live updates of tournament results.