baseball player holding two baseballs on the pitcher's mound
PHOTO: Jose Morales

I am a baseball fan. A totally over-the-top baseball fan. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed me for any length of time.

(At this point I'd like to say to those people who are not interested in baseball and artificial intelligence — could there be such a person? — stick with me here.)

What Does Fantasy League Baseball Have to Do With AI?

This year, I was recruited to be a part of a fantasy league. For those who know about such things, it’s a 5x5 league (Batting = SB, R, RBI, Avg, HR and Pitching = W, Saves, WHIP, ERA, Strikeouts). I was honored to be invited because this particular league has been around since before baseball statistics became so ubiquitous. It goes back to the time when fantasy baseball league commissioners needed to await the arrival of USA Today each week, and manually input tedious statistics into a spreadsheet.

Well, those days are obviously gone. This particular league is called the NOVA Braggin' Rights Fantasy Challenge and is housed on CBSSports.com. The integration that CBSSports has done to automate the process of scouting, team drafting, and league administration is mind-boggling in its own right. We had our league draft on March 15 before everything hit the fan re: the postponement of the season. The draft took four hours, which my wife found incredibly humorous.

(Before I go any further, for my baseball scouting credibility, let me say that there was a method to my madness in my draft selection. On the hitting side, I decided to emphasize speed, thereby hopefully optimizing the SB, Average, and Runs categories and on the pitching side, I was focused on Wins, WHIP and Strikeouts.)

Still here? Let's move from baseball nerdiness to AI nerdiness.

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An AI Email Makes Me Feel ... Seen

About 10 minutes after we completed our marathon draft, I got an incredibly detailed personal email highlighting my successes and failures in the draft. This is just a small portion. (Note: The cryptic names mentioned in the email are the other teams in the league.)

Your Draft Grade: C

With the draft now over, the 2020 fantasy baseball season has officially begun, and no team has gotten off to a better start than Rainman Cometh. Rolling with the best player in baseball worked out, as Coach Willis' squad are projected to wind up with 94 category points. That's 47 more points than The Holmbres are projected to come up with. Despite drafting a (supposedly healthy) former NL MVP in Christian Yelich, we're projecting that Coach Holmlund will wind up at the back of the pack.

You managed to find yourself in the middle of the pack with the 9th best draft overall. You might have been among the best in the league if it weren't for your outfielders, who are projected to be the 4th worst in the league. But at least you are better at that position than Tom's Legends, who are even worse. Coach Needham will have to trot out Alex Verdugo, Jo Adell, and Dylan Carlson into the starting lineup. Flintstones2 will have no such difficulty when it comes to outfielders, pacing the league with players like Cody Bellinger, Charlie Blackmon, and Ketel Marte. Their ability to put together that good group is a little less impressive given that they had the 3rd easiest path through the draft.

Speaking of draft difficulty, you had it pretty rough, as you ended up with less value available to you than all but one other team. You had to watch as good value picks like Carlos Santana and Josh Donaldson were snatched right before it was your turn.

Looking at individual picks, we thought Kershawshank Redemption made the best move by drafting Gary Sanchez in the 124th slot. He was projected to be off the board a full 69 picks earlier. In the bad picks department, nobody made a worse move than The Thrill. Coach Adleberg surprised everybody by choosing Kolten Wong with the 84th pick, which we pegged as a serious reach.

Your best pickup of the draft was Danny Santana, who we thought should have been selected around the 68th slot, but who you got with pick #114. Not all of your picks were superb, however, as you also selected Daniel Hudson, whose projections suggested that he should have gone undrafted.

What is amazing about this from a customer experience perspective is the incredible amount of personalization and detail incorporated into this email. I will put aside for a moment my "C" rating. Even more amazing is that this email arrived only 10 minutes after we finished the draft. And in another step up the CX ladder, note the very human conversational style. And you guessed it — no human was involved in the creation of this email.

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Communications With Nuance

I’ve always been intrigued by how AI can be used to automatically create conversational documents based on data — think annual reports and short sports articles and wire services reports. Many of these are now “written” by AI. But this one seemed particularly nuanced.

I noticed the name of the company behind the email in fine print — infoSentience. It describes its core value as “the ability to process huge volumes of data and deliver on-demand, high-quality narratives.”

I asked its CEO, Steve Wasick, whether the Gartners and Forresters of the world have recognized this area as a unique technology space and given it a name. “As far as I know, they haven't. We like to think of our technology as an 'analyst in a box' so I wouldn't be surprised if they try to use technology like ours in the future. We really think this technology has applications within almost any field. Any industry that has too much data to analyze and report on manually could use our help. We actually have products now in finance, medicine, and defense.”

It strikes me that this technology's strength in adding to the customer experience is its ability to truly personalize the interaction. According to Wasick, “Giving people general information is nice, but they are obviously going to respond much better to information that is unique to them. Most companies just don't realize that it is even an option to personalize many of the bulk communications that they are currently sending out.”

Of course, as someone who makes a living basically stringing words together, I had to ask him about the long-term impact on journalism. “It's not likely to replace anything that people are currently writing. Instead, our technology is able to allow for reporting in situations where it wouldn't be economical to have human writers.” Not quite sure I agree with that last point, especially for those kinds of writing gigs that are usually handed off to aspiring recent journalism majors, but OK.

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The Next Frontier of Content in Context

My core point in all of this is that the next frontier of “content in context” — something we’ve spent a lot of time talking about in the content management space — is to automate combining data and content into a seamless and conversational communication. And conversations that are not stilted and contrived, but that meet the Turing Test.

Just FYI, this article was written by a real human being. Or was it?