An artificial-intelligence-based stats query tool that can answer questions put to it in regular English
Remember the stats scrapbook?
The question is a giveaway to my vintage. How many of you will know how it was to keep track of cricket before ESPNcricinfo came along?
I kept my own database: pages and pages of averages and records clipped from magazines and newspapers and pasted into large notebooks. Because everything got outdated quickly, my little project soon occupied a shelf and threatened to consume many more.
You had to have been there in that long-ago age to know how magical it felt to see averages tick over live, and to watch record pages update themselves on ESPNcricinfo. A few years after, along came Statsguru to spoil numbers geeks. It still remains the cricket world’s default tool to search, dice and zoom in and out of stats across players, teams, eras and formats. Early in my job as editor of the site, I remember the utter panic in a media box once when Statsguru went down for a while towards the end of a game. I could feel eyes on me, but instead of feeling awkward, I was quietly chuffed.
Or the answers to other queries, like these:
These are not static web pages called up by keyword-matching, as with normal search engines. Here, each question is unique, there are millions of questions that our databases can answer, and a million ways the engine can go wrong. The enormous complexity of this task is why you haven’t seen anything like this – not for cricket, not for any sport, not for anything else – where a natural language question returns a precise answer from a database.
In the period leading up to this launch, we have endured as much frustration as we have experienced exhilaration. When the first answer came through, it felt like magic. But as expectations and ambition grew, there were days when the task felt hopeless. Accepting the pursuit of accuracy as a more realistic goal freed us from the burden of trying to achieve perfection – unattainable in this case.
Come and share the adventure with us. And let’s take to it to the places it can go.
Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo @sambitbal