The Computer That Beat Jeopardy Might Help You Win Fantasy Football

NEW YORK — Can the computer that won at Jeopardy help you become a fantasy football champion? Can it make an Olympic athlete reach greater heights? Might it improve your own golf swing? And with the swirl of controversy surrounding concussions in the NFL, can it help us get a better understanding of head injuries?

Most people first got wind of IBM Watson in 2011, when it emerged victorious on Jeopardy.

But Big Blue’s “cognitive computing system” isn’t just a whiz at game show trivia. These days, the Watson ecosystem covers 350 partners across 17 industries, from travel to toys to health care, where it assists doctors in making tricky diagnoses.

And now through some of these partnerships Watson is increasingly tackling the wide world of sports.

Kansas City, Mo., mobile app producer Edge Up Sports, for example, is leveraging Watson to try and give fantasy football owners an edge. The startup, which has launched a Kickstarter campaign, scoops up and analyzes team and player data on all things NFL, culled from social media, weather reports, injury histories, analyst write ups, and news stories.

How does a team perform on grass versus turf? Given a player’s recent injury performance how is he likely to do after his latest sustained hit? Such answers are factored in.

“Perhaps the Yahoo or ESPN analyst isn’t really talking a matchup or even a personal situation with a player’s life. By taking an aggregate view across a wider cross-section we’re going to surface a more complete picture,” says Edge Up creator Ilya Tabakh.

Another ecosystem partner, Spare5, is using Watson to connect pro golfers who have a bit of downtime with duffers looking to bolster their golfing mechanics. In that respect, Spare5 is like a matchmaker between golfer and golf pro. Watson can learn the personality of the student golfer, and supply tips to the instructor so that he or she can apply proper teaching techniques.

Meantime, the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins is teaming up with another Watson partner called 113 Industries to try and improve the fan experience before, during and after home games at CONSOL Energy Center arena, and also to help grow the fan based among the millennial generation.
Understanding what Watson has been up to requires a basic grasp of cognitive computing. Think of it as an umbrella term that encompasses forms of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The topic has garnered a lot of attention lately with Google’s recent announcement that it is opening up its machine learning software code to researchers and engineers. And machine learning is a hotbed for other tech companies too.

For its part, IBM Watson attempts to process, analyze and learn from information just like people do, and it does so by ingesting tweets, research reports and numerous other documents, at a blistering rate of 800 million pages per second. Back when Watson was playing Jeopardy it was the size of a small bedroom.

Today it is down to a stack of about three pizza boxes.

Triax of Norwalk, Conn., is using Watson to try to reduce sports-related injuries. It has developed quarter-sized sensors that fit inside headbands or scull caps. The sensors, which are being used in about 50 schools around the U.S. and increasingly abroad, can track head impacts on athletes in real time, whether they’re playing football, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, rugby or other sports.

Watson’s role is in analyzing Twitter feeds and the personalities of the athletes to correlate those personalities to risk.

“There’s some data out there that suggests certain athletes with specific character traits are at a higher risk of hurting themselves or someone else,” says Triax President Chad Hollingsworth. “We’re trying to find a way to identify who those athletes are and maybe take some preventative teaching steps.”

Triax also sells $189 Bluetooth sensors aimed at parents who want to understand how head collisions impact their kids.

“When a parent picks up their child from a sporting event…they can now communicate with Watson via Q&A, saying, `hey, he took a big hit, what does that mean, what are the symptoms?’ and Watson can come back with an intelligent answer,” Hollingsworth says.