Watson gives tennis fans a voice

By | 2 minute read | September 16, 2020

Just because there was no roar of the crowd at the 2020 US Open, doesn’t mean tennis fans went unheard.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how Open Questions with Watson are changing the nature of sports debate, using AI to identify pro and con arguments from millions of articles and expert opinions. But I left out perhaps the most interesting and exciting aspect of these AI-curated debates: fan input.

As part of the Open Questions program, we invited tennis fans to contribute their own opinions to the debates. And we promised that Watson would take their comments into account, reshaping the debate summaries accordingly.

I read many of these contributions personally. And I was really impressed with how thoughtful and informed fans were. For example, when we asked whether Billie Jean King is the most influential tennis player of all time, one fan responded: “I would argue [Arthur] Ashe was most influential, not just because of his societal impact, but for his work standardizing the tour through the creation of the ATP … and as the former president of the ATP, leading to a final merger between amateur and professional tennis.”

As Watson analyzed these contributions, it literally changed the debates. For example, Watson learned from fans that Chris Evert made significant changes to her game in order to better compete against Martina Navratilova. And it recognized that as a strong argument in support of the case for Chrissie versus Martina being best tennis rivalry of all time.

Why is this so significant? Two reasons. First, it introduces a new source of insight to sports conversation. Don’t get me wrong. I love sports TV and talk shows. And I have tremendous respect for people like Mike Greenberg, who always elevate the level of sports debate. But media is best for broadcasting the insights of one to many. Watson, on the other hand, can share the insights of many to many. And not in the noisy, unproductive way of social media. Rather, Watson neatly distills and summarizes the wisdom of crowds into easily consumable insight.

This ability to separate the signal from the noise is why Watson Assistant has been so successful at understanding customer feedback and improving the call center experience. Or why Watson is being used to make sense of decades of institutional knowledge so companies can share experience and expertise across their workforce.

That brings me to my second reason. People often worry that AI is somehow dehumanizing or that it will steal all our jobs. Having worked with Watson for almost a decade now, I can’t disagree more. AI doesn’t do what we do; it does what we cannot do. Namely, it makes sense of huge volumes of unstructured information. In fact, I would argue that applications of AI — like Open Questions with Watson — give us a better understanding of humanity. Watson allows us to express ourselves in natural language, and then reflects our ideas, reason, and emotion back to us.

In other words, the end goal is not to train AIs to better understand us, but rather to use AI to better understand ourselves. And to allow everyone’s voice to be heard, loud and clear.

See how all the debates played out at www.USOpen.org/OpenQuestions