Innovation

AI predicts top 4 finishers of 2017 Kentucky Derby

An AI platform harnessing swarm intelligence assembled a group of expert handicappers to predict the the top performers in Kentucky Derby 143. Here are the picks of the AI 'super-expert.'

In May 2016, a relatively unknown startup called Unanimous A.I. made big headlines when its AI-based platform used collective intelligence to create a prediction for the Kentucky Derby superfecta—the top four horses, in order of finish. It made exactly the right pick, which returned $541.10 on a $1 bet.

As TechRepublic reported, Churchill Downs took notice last year and decided to collaborate with Unanimous A.I. to create an official AI swarm made up of handicappers and racing analysts to predict the top finishers for this year's Derby. The track is calling this the "super-expert" Derby pick.

SEE: How to use Swarm AI instead of polls to do market research

On Wednesday, the handicappers logged into Unanimous A.I.'s UNU platform from across the US, and answered a series of questions that gradually narrowed down their picks from the field of 20 horses until they created consensus on the top four picks and the order of finish:

  1. Classic Empire
  2. McCracken
  3. Irish War Cry
  4. Always Dreaming

While last year's swarm was clear-cut because it was a top-heavy field with a few outstanding horses, this year's swarm reflected the fact that the race is more of a toss-up in 2017.

For example, this year the swarm had a very difficult time choosing between Classic Empire and McCracken as the top finisher. While the morning line favorite Classic Empire prevailed, McCracken scored a dead heat with him when it came to the list of the six horses that the swarm had the most confidence in finishing in the top four:

  • Classic Empire (85%)
  • McCracken (85%)
  • Irish War Cry (75%)
  • Always Dreaming (65%)
  • Hence (35%)
  • Gunnevera (15%)

"If there's one thing we've learned from working with the pros at Churchill Downs over the past few weeks, it's that this is a wide-open Derby," said Joe Rosenbaum, Unanimous A.I.'s chief communication officer.

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Image: Unanimous A.I.

If you love long shots, the swarm also picked the unheralded horses with the best chance of sneaking into the top four:

  • Practical Joke
  • Battle of Midway
  • Tapwrit
  • J Boys Echo

In addition, Churchill Downs' betting arm, TwinSpires.com, created a $10,000 Player's Pool that will take the results of the swarm and pair it with a betting strategy created by its top handicapper, Ed DeRosa. For the pool, DeRosa will make a series of bets using the four horses from the swarm in a variety of combinations. He'll publish his strategy on Friday.

DeRosa compared placing your money in the Player's Pool to a bunch of friends going in on a set of lottery tickets and then everyone splitting the winnings if any of the tickets hits the jackpot. It gives you a lot more chances to win, but you split the earnings when it does.

Bettors have shown so much interest in the AI-powered picks that the Player's Pool sold out on Wednesday even before the swarm got together to make its selections.

SEE: How to Implement AI and machine learning (a ZDNet/TechRepublic special report)

The "swarm" method is modeled after nature. This type of intelligence comes from harnessing group-think rather than relying on any individual experts or averages. (Here's a detailed account of how swarms work.) The UNU platform has proven remarkably accurate in predicting everything from Oscar winners to the (unlikely) winner of the 2016 World Series.

Can the swarm out-predict the experts again in 2017? The answer will be revealed around 6:30 pm ET on Saturday.

Disclaimer: Remember that gambling is always just that, and TechRepublic is not recommending that you engage in parimutuel betting. Be careful with your money and wager at your own risk.

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Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

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About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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