We Didn’t Ask for AI-Generative Sports Commentary But It’s Here

Highlights from Wimbledon will come courtesy of IBM's Watsonx

n this photo illustration, the Wimbledon Championships logo is displayed on a smartphone screen. Generative AI commentary is coming to the tennis tournament.
Your Wimbledon highlights may be crafted and read by AI
Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Generative AI has its uses in media — audiobooks that otherwise wouldn’t have had an audio version, for example, or even some extremely niche podcasts. Other times, like utilizing an AI DJ in Spotify, it feels more like an experiment rather than something we’d want to try out more than once. Why? The human element is missing.

And that’s why IBM’s plan to add generative AI commentary to Wimbledon is concerning. According to Quartz, the commentary will be powered by IBM’s AI and data platform Watsonx and will include captions in highlight videos as well as audio commentary.

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The first issue is obviously accuracy — can Watsonx truly determine what’s going on during a match? As well, this feels extremely limited in scope; users will have to download an app to view the AI-captioned highlights. (In the same press release, IBM also announced IBM AI Draw Analysis, an AI-assisted feature that defines how favorable the path to the final might be for each player in the singles draw, which seems interesting.)

So, why go the AI route when human commentators — important in sports events! — are already being utilized? IBM claims the AI is a “step towards making commentary available in an exciting way for matches outside of Wimbledon’s Show Courts, which already have live human commentary.”

While this experiment seems limited in nature and may be providing a service to matches that otherwise would get less of a spotlight, it does portend a murky future for sports broadcasters. As The Guardian points out, the European broadcasting union (EBU) recently announced that the cloned voice of the commentator Hannah England will be used to provide commentary for the European Athletics Championships.

When AI versions of Hannah England (or Joe Buck or Al Michaels) take over from actual spontaneous commentary and knowledge base of real-life broadcasters, we lose a bit more of what makes sports so engrossing: the humanity of it all.

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