IBM Brings Watson to the US Open

After 20 years supporting the US Open tennis tournament, IBM is bringing its Watson cognitive computing technology to bear at this year's event.

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FLUSHING, N.Y.—Each year, IBM works to improve on its performance at the US Open tennis tournament—this year by adding new and enhanced analytics, social, mobile, big data and cloud capabilities to bring a unique user experience to fans both onsite and around the world.

For more than 20 years, IBM has collaborated with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to continuously improve on the way millions of fans experience the US Open. This year, new technologies are helping to capture, analyze and deliver real-time scores and insights to fans of the 2015 US Open, which is currently taking place here.

Moreover, IBM is exploring ways to deploy its Watson cognitive computing technology to enhance the fan experience, both for those courtside here at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and for those watching from home or keeping up on the action and scores on their mobile device, said Noah Syken, vice president of global sponsorship and client executive programs, in an interview with eWEEK.

Last year, IBM used Watson to predict cloud traffic so the company would be better prepared for spikes, Syken said. However, Watson's role has expanded this year.

"Right now Watson is learning on US Open data, and by the end of the week you'll be able to query Watson on the US Open and get all kinds of data on each player, including statistics, sentiment analysis, how they've been trending socially and how fast their fastest first and second serve was," Syken said. "Watson also will be able to provide all kinds of information on the overall tournament itself," he added. IBM is loading Watson up not only on data from this year's tournament, but also historical data from past tournaments.

As a cognitive computing system, Watson has the ability to "learn" by ingesting all forms of data, both structured and unstructured. The system, delivered through the cloud, analyzes high volumes of data, understands complex questions posed in natural language and proposes evidence-based answers. Watson continuously learns, gaining in value and knowledge over time, from previous interactions. The Watson technology represents a new era in computing where systems will understand the world in the way that humans do: through senses, learning and experience.

Syken said IBM began training Watson on tennis tournament data at the 2015 Australian Open, where the company used Watson-powered robots as an interface to the Watson system rather than a Web app. The robots, Niki and Nikita, are products of IBM's partnership with SoftBank. In February, IBM and Tokyo-based SoftBank launched a global alliance to bring Watson to Japan. The alliance involved teaching Watson to understand Japanese and represented a major milestone in IBM's efforts to accelerate the adoption of cognitive computing.

Since then, Watson has moved into many new areas and vertical markets, from health care to retail to travel to cooking to financial services and customer service, and now to sports such as tennis and fantasy football. Last month, IBM announced it is helping Edge Up Sports, a sports information and analysis site, develop a Watson-powered application for fantasy football.

Downstream, IBM is looking at employing Watson as a sports broadcast commentating assistant, most likely initiating with the US Open next year, but then spreading to other sports IBM supports, such as the US Open golf tournament.

"With Watson at their fingertips, broadcasters could rattle off facts and statistics that would exhibit an encyclopedic knowledge of the game," Syken said.

Meanwhile, for this year's tournament, Watson is mining the Twitter feeds and social contexts of all the players in US Open, Syken said.

According to IBM, the two-week-long US Open is the most highly attended annual sporting event in the world. To support and accommodate the spike in traffic to the USTA's digital platforms as the tournament progresses, IBM Cloud offers continuous availability and scaling potential to manage unpredictable spikes in traffic throughout the tournament.

IBM provides an end-to-end technology infrastructure to power the US Open experience that captures, analyzes, publishes, stores, monitors and secures the historical and real-time data that is at the heart of the US Open fan experience. The experience is underpinned by a combination of hardware, software and services, including IBM Power and System x systems, IBM Cloud Orchestrator and the SoftLayer infrastructure from IBM, said John Kent, vice president of global sponsorship and client programs at IBM, during a tour of IBM's infrastructure systems at the US Open. These technologies enable IBM to help the USTA rapidly meet changing fan demands by dynamically adding capacity to the hybrid cloud environment that powers the tournament's digital platforms.