IBM Watson: The US Open As a Preview of an IBM Future

September 12, 2017

I read a remarkable essay, article, or content marketing “object” called “What We Can Glean From The 2017 U.S Open to Imagine a World Powered by the Emotional Intelligence AI Can Offer.” The author is affiliated with an organization with which I am not familiar. Its name? Brandthropologie.

Let’s pull out the factoids from the write up which has two themes: US government interest in advanced technology and IBM Watson.

Factoid 1: “Throughout time, the origin of many modern-day technologies can be traced to the military and Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA).”

Factoid 2: “Just as ARPA was faced with wide spread doubt and fear about how an interconnected world would not lead to a dystopian society, IBM, among the top leaders in the provision of augmented intelligence, is faced with similar challenges amidst today’s machine learning revolution.”

Factoid 3: “IBM enlisted its IBM Watson Media platform to determine the best highlights of matches. IBM then broadcasted the event live to its mobile app, using IBM Watson Media to watch for match highlights as they happened. It took into account crowd noises, emotional player reactions, and other factors to determine the best highlight of a match.”

Factoid 4: “The U.S. Open used one of the first solutions available through IBM Watson Media, called Cognitive Highlights. Developed at IBM Research with IBM iX, Cognitive Highlights was able to identify a match’s most important moments by analyzing statistical tennis data, sounds from the crowd, and player reactions using both action and facial expression recognition. The system then ranked the shots from seven U.S. Open courts and auto-curated the highlights, which simplified the video production process and ultimately positioned the USTA team to scale and accelerate the creation of cognitive highlight packages.”

Factoid 5: “Key to the success of this sea change will be the ability for leading AI providers to customize these solutions to make them directly relevant to specific scenarios, while also staying agilely informed on the emotional intelligence required to not only compete, but win, in each one.”

My reaction to these snippets was incredulity.

My comment about Factoid 1: I was troubled by the notion of “throughout time” DARPA has been the source of “many modern day technologies.” It is true that government funding has assisted outfits from the charmingly named Purple Yogi to Interdisciplinary Laboratories. Government funding is often suggestive and, in many situations, reactive; for example, “We need to move on this autonomous weapons thing.” The idea of autonomous weapons has been around a long time; for example, Thracians’ burning wagon assaults which were a small improvement over Neanderthals pushing stones off a cliff onto their enemies. Drones with AI is not a big leap from my point of view.

My comment about Factoid 2: I like the idea that one company, in this case IBM, was the prime mover for smart software. IBM, like other early commercial computing outfits, was on the periphery of many innovations. If anything, the good ideas from IBM were not put into commercial use because the company needed to generate revenue. IBM Almaden wizard Jon Kleinberg came up with CLEVER. The system and method influenced the Google. Where is IBM in search and information access today? Pretty much nowhere, and I am including the marketing extravaganza branded “Watson.” IBM, from my point of view, acted like an innovation brake, not an innovator. Disagree? That’s your prerogative. But building market share via wild and crazy assertions about Lucene, home brew code, and acquired technology like Vivisimo is not going to convince me about the sluggishness of large companies.

My comment about Factoid 3: The assertion that magic software delivered video programming is sort of true. But the reality of today’s TV production is that humans in trailers handle 95 percent of the heavy lifting. Software can assist, but the way TV production works at live events is that there are separate and unequal worlds of keeping the show moving along, hitting commercial points, and spicing up the visual flow. IBM, from my point of view, was the equivalent of salt free spices which a segment of the population love. The main course was human-intermediated TV production of the US Open. Getting the live sports event to work is still a human intermediated task. Marketing may not believe this, but, hey, reality is different from uninformed assertions about what video editing systems can do quickly and “automatically.”

My comment about Factoid 4: See my comment about Factoid 3. If you know a person who works in a trailer covering a live sports event, get their comments about smart editing tools.

My comment about Factoid 5: Conflating the idea of automated functions ability to identify a segment of a video stream with emotion detection is pretty much science fiction. Figuring out sentiment in text is tough. Figuring out “emotion” in a stream of video is another kettle of fish. True, there is progress. I saw a demo from an Israeli company’s whose name I cannot recall. That firm was able to parse video to identify when a goal was scored. The system sort of worked. Flash forward to today: Watson sort of works. Watson is a punching bag for some analysts and skeptics like me for good reason. Talk is easy. Delivering is tough.

Reality, however, seems to be quite different for the folks at Brandthropologie.

Stephen E Arnold, September 12, 2017


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