Wimbledon AI app mocked for unforced errors

05 July 2024 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

IBM and the All England Lawn Tennis Club have collaborated to launch a generative AI feature for personalised player stories at Wimbledon. However, fans have been quick to pick apart the technology’s wobbly debut at the championship, noting a number of unforced errors from its very launch.

It was supposed to be the dawning of a new age. Ahead of the 2024 edition of Wimbledon, the All England Lawn Tennis Club had been mounting a sustained push to embrace technology, as a means to boosting engagement with its flagship tournament.

Part of this saw the club announce a new partnership with IT and professional services giant IBM to tap into the apparently limitless potential of generative AI.

According to a joint release, the organisations announced a new feature for the “Wimbledon digital experience” (the institution’s app) which would “leverage match-data with generative AI from IBM's AI and data platform, watsonx, to keep fans updated on the world's leading players as they advance” through the tournament. The ‘Catch Me Up’ feature was billed as offering pre and post-match players cards and “AI-generated player stories and analysis” that could help bring their experiences to life for fans.

Wimbledon AI app mocked for unforced errors

Chris Clements, digital products lead at the All England Club, remarked, "We are committed to offering fans the highest quality Wimbledon experience, whether it's in person or digitally. Generative AI allows us to scale our ability to provide different types of content for fans wherever they are in the world in a way that's personalised for them. This year's new Catch Me Up feature will make it easier for fans to follow the key storylines as they emerge throughout The Championships."

Meanwhile, Jonathan Adashek, senior vice president of marketing and communications for IBM, pointed out a 35-year relationship between IBM and Wimbledon, which he said had been “co-creating solutions that make fans feel more connected to all the on-court action”.

Expanding on that, he added, "The new Catch Me Up feature is an exciting example of how we can use the power of generative AI to deliver compelling, insight-driven storytelling at scale. IBM is also putting these same technologies from our AI and data platform watsonx into the hands of clients worldwide, across nearly every sector, to address their unique business needs.”

But despite the hype, from the very first moments of the annual championship, Catch Me Up seems to have had a hard time bridging gaps with fans. The young contender endured an error-strewn maiden performance at the championships, with commenters on social media regularly pointing out obvious errors in its auto-generated copy.

Exemplifying this, on the first day of play, several inaccuracies appeared in the player cards for Emma Raducanu, Shaui Zhang and Daria Kasatkina. Far from helping her ‘story’ be more engaging for fans, former US Open-winner Raducanu was inaccurately described as “the British No. 1” in her bio, despite entering as only the third-ranked women’s singles player for her country. Meanwhile, Kasatkina and Zhang were described as “two up-and-comers” by the AI ahead of their match, despite being aged 27 and 35 respectively.

This prompted responses on X including one from a user named Kvittycat, who laughed that “Shuai and 27 year old Daria Kasatkina would love to be called up and coming!” Another, under the moniker Earl in Accounting, added, “Wimbledon’s stats/data/app was better last year and it seems like they let IBM use them as a guinea pig to show off their AI.”

While IBM and the All England Club appear to have since corrected those issues, other issues lingered for Catch Me Up heading into day two. For example, the easily-accessed statistics supposed to help give fans a quick overview of players’ form going into games appear to be inaccurate. The 2024 43 match win totals listed for Iga Swiatek did not match her totals listed on the WTA’s website or ESPN, and this was the same for Jelena Ostapenko supposedly on 25 and Anna Kalinskaya on 20, who have actually won 24 and 25 respectively.

On top of all this, British writers have been quick to point out that the AI does not understand the difference between UK and US English – suggesting using the technology to replace actual copywriters may have been something of a double-fault. While the All England Club maintains that the model had been trained on the Wimbledon editorial style, the Catch Me Up feature subsequently had a series of US spellings on the first day it was served to fans.

It is not the first time that Wimbledon has been derided for its attempts to usher in technological ‘solutions’ to problems that it might have imagined in the first place. In 2023, it faced criticism for trialling an “AI-powered commentary and captions” system in its online highlights videos, though the AI’s clunky and dispassionate delivery as well as backlash from fans and commentators means that project is on ice – at least for now. At the same time, the All England Club is understood to have flirted with replacing on-court officials with AI.