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Volume 21 No. 34
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Artificial intelligence to take on significantly enhanced role at Wimbledon

Artificial intelligence has been creeping into sports for over a year now. Wimbledon was a front-runner last year when it deployed IBM’s AI service, Watson, to identify the names of people in hundreds of thousands of pictures, and the famed tennis tournament will now use the machine learning technology across far more of its event when this year’s edition starts on July 2.

 

In fact, on Monday, Wimbledon will unveil its tournament poster, created through Watson. The poster is a mosaic of more than 8,000 tourney photos through the years. On the digital version, users can zoom in and see the individual photos.

 

Watson took what the event is trying to convey — a merger of tradition and innovation — and arrived at using photos, said Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital for the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which owns and operates the grass court spectacle. The poster commemorates the 150th anniversary of the club. 

 

“AI is going to be so much more pervasive, especially for a two-week event,” she said. “When you are processing huge amounts of stuff, whether that’s data, whether that’s scores, whether it’s content, the ability for AI to support you in doing that is only going to become more and more valuable.” 

 

Wimbledon is also building AI into its partnership with Facebook Messenger. This year fans can use Messenger to send questions remotely, such as requesting a highlight, and get a response driven by Watson. The technology is also involved for the first time this year in identifying cyber threats after more than 200 million such events occurred at the tournament last year, Willis said. 

 

The technology is even getting infused into scoring data. SlamTracker, which records statistics during a match, will now include “momentum points,” the moment at which a match shifted. Watson will comb through millions of points from matches over the years to identify such moments and then apply them to points in this year’s tournament, which fans can then see on wimbledon.com.

 

Just as it did last year, Wimbledon will use an AI-driven highlight system that automatically cuts and edits video clips based on crowd noise, player gestures, lead changes, broadcaster inflections and other cues, with clips created in a matter of seconds without human intervention.

 

IBM is entering its 29th year as a Wimbledon partner.  

Watson, IBM’s AI service, created this poster to mark the host club’s 150th anniversary. Hover over image to see more detail: