Just how could Artificial Intelligence impact on the performance of a semi-professional sports side?
In the 2018-19 season, IBM Watson worked alongside Leatherhead FC to find out exactly that.
In the previous campaign, this traditional, small but passionate club from the grassroots of the English game had seen their entire season collapse on a single afternoon as they narrowly missed out on the play-offs of the Bostik Premier Division, the sixth tier of the country’s football pyramid.
Staring at a long summer ahead, there were sweeping changes at the resource-light club, and they needed all the help they could get.
“When I took over, I had one signed player,” revealed new manager Nikki Bull, who had to oversee a complete overhaul of the playing staff.
Their most exciting signing, however, would come off the field, as IBM Watson arrived to help steer the club back in the right direction.
“Unlike traditional computing where you programme it, with Watson you teach it,” says Joe Pavitt, Master Inventor & Emerging Technology Specialist at IBM Research.
“It will learn and identify patterns over time… so, we can identify any particular weaknesses Leatherhead has and try to encourage their strengths.”
And Assistant Manager Martin McCarthy was among those instantly won over by the concept.
“I was blown away when I walked out of that office,” he said. “It could be the difference between success and failure.”
So how exactly did it work out?
Find out next Wednesday with the full story of how Artificial Intelligence arrived in English football.