Wimbledon 2019: IBM’s Slammtracker AI Technology Heralds The Demise Of The Human Player

Whilst we patiently wait for the day that Womble-shaped robots replace human tennis players at Wimbledon, we can admire the IBM powered AI technology that the organisers of the Wimbledon tennis tournament use to enhance the experience for TV and phone viewers.

As can be expected, the technology tracks the ball, analyses player gestures, crowd cheers/booing but can’t yet discern the more subtle player behaviour such as serving an ace or the classic John McEnroe ‘smash your racket on the ground’ stunt. Currently a large number of expert human side kicks are required for recording these facets and manually uploading them into the huge Watson driven analytics system.

Phone apps are possibly the best places to see the results of the IBM Slammtracker system and are perfect for the casual tennis train spotter. It would be interesting to see the intrinsic AI bias at work – whether it can compensate for the greater intensity of the cheer for the more popular celebrities rather than the skill, or fluke shot, of the rank outsider. We also wonder if it will be misogynistic – will it focus on men rather than women in the mixed doubles or the other way round? Will it be racist? Also, when will the umpires be replaced with 100% AI?

Finally, whilst we at Hackaday appreciate the value of sport and exercise and the technology behind the apps, many of us have no time to mindlessly watch a ball go backwards and forwards across our screens, even if it is accompanied by satisfying grunts and the occasional racket-to-ground smash. We’d much rather entertain ourselves with the idea of building the robots that will surely one day make watching human tennis players a thing of the past.

4 thoughts on “Wimbledon 2019: IBM’s Slammtracker AI Technology Heralds The Demise Of The Human Player

  1. As with any sport, there’s more to it than “mindlessly watching a ball go backwards and forwards” but yeah, a lot of tennis matches can be like watching paint dry. Heck, even PLAYING some tennis matches is like watching paint dry.

  2. So, this system can “track the ball” and “analyse player gestures”, but it cannot “discern the more subtle player behaviour such as serving an ace”?

    How is tracking an ace more subtle than analyzing player gestures or tracking the ball? It knows where the ball landed (so, if it was “in”), right? If the other player didn’t return it, and the first player was serving (shouldn’t be too hard to figure that out), then it was an ace.


  3. IBM has been pulling stunts like this since they initially announced Watson. They have yet to show a single, valuable utility for the technology outside of winning @ Jeopardy and have lost several multi-million $ lawsuits after over-promising the capabilities of the system. I guess setting it to watching tennis is as good as anything else they’ve failed at.

    1. Got to keep those people employed somehow.

      Anyway, they did much better than UI designers, who keep redesigning interfaces just to keep themselves employed and everyone else enraged.

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