AI Brings Next-Gen Engagement to Wimbledon


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Few things seem more quintessentially English than the Wimbledon tennis championship. Run since 1877 by the All England Lawn Tennis Club, it insists that players still play in all-white outfits and refers to the competitors as ladies and gentlemen. But its traditional trappings have frequently been accompanied by a focus on technological innovation. The U.K.’s first color TV broadcasts came from Wimbledon in 1967. Known for resisting on-court advertising of any kind, the championship nevertheless has commercial partners such as Rolex and Ralph Lauren. IBM has been the “Official Supplier of Information Technology” for 28 years, and the partnership underpins a focus on digital that aims to push the boundaries of engagement with fans on-site and around the world.

Tennis fans are keen to engage with Wimbledon content online and, increasingly, on mobile. This year, the official Wimbledon app was downloaded 1.3 million times, and almost 18 million unique devices were used to engage with Wimbledon content. Wimbledon used IBM’s Watson technology to create an AI (artificial intelligence) chatbot called Fred, applying a natural language interface to provide on-site visitors with information.

To better engage fans around the world, AI was used to help simplify the creation of highlight videos. An analysis of crowd noise, players’ movements, and match data was used to generate auto-curated highlights, accelerate the video production process, and expand the number of shareable highlights.

Watson was also used to create “Wimbledon’s first artificial tennis pundit” and was put to work attempting to define what makes a great champion. With broad categories such as performance under pressure, serve effectiveness, and stamina, cognitive computing techniques were used to analyze more than 50 million unstructured data points captured since 1990 from a wide range of tennis sources. This, in turn, generated insights that were used in media coverage, online punditry, player interaction, and social media sharing under the banner #WhatMakesGreat.

There are plenty of opportunities to use AI to engage with sports fans. But arguably, AI can find a home in any industry that relies on repetitive customer interaction. That’s why the hospitality industry is experimenting with AI as an alternative to more traditional concierge and customer services. Last year, for example, Edwardian Hotels London launched Edward, a virtual host offered across several busy London hotels that can respond to guest questions, requests, and needs via text message.

Retail banking is also an obvious home for AI-based applications. The Royal Bank of Scotland has been experimenting with Luvo, a cognitive chatbot that can quickly answer simple questions, such as “How do I update my home address?” In Sweden, Swedbank’s Nina is an intelligent virtual assistant, developed with Nuance Communications, which aims to deliver a “human-like, conversational customer service experience.” According to Nuance, Nina achieved a first-contact resolution of 78% within the first 3 months of operation.

But it’s the healthcare sector that could provide the most fertile ground for AI. U.K.-based digital healthcare company Babylon describes its service as “The country’s best doctors, supported by the world’s most advanced AI.” The Babylon app has been downloaded more than a million times. In April, the company announced a $60 million investment to build what it described as “the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence (AI) platform in healthcare, to support medical diagnosis and predict personalised health outcomes globally.” The company cites remarkable statistics: In Rwanda alone, almost 10% of the adult population registered with Babylon in the first 6 months.

It’s certain that AI technology is still in its infancy, and as it develops, there will be missteps and detours. Wimbledon offers exciting examples of its potential for enhancing brand communication and engagement. But it is healthcare that could provide what is arguably its most compelling application: as a tool to help with medical decision making and improve health outcomes. 


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