Innovation

Swarm AI predicted the Kentucky Derby last year, now it's officially part of the race

TechRepublic challenged Unanimous A.I. to forecast the top finishers in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, and it nailed it. Churchill Downs got in on the action, and it's raising the stakes for 2017.

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Image: iStockphoto/Thomas Kelley


The longest running sporting event in America is pairing up with one of today's newest technologies in predictive analytics. As it has every year since 1875, the 143rd Kentucky Derby will take place on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY. But this year, it's getting a tech infusion.

You may remember that last May, TechRepublic's Hope Reese challenged Unanimous A.I. to use its artificial swarming technology to correctly forecast the order of the top four finishers of the Kentucky Derby. In horse racing terms, that's known as the superfecta. Because of the unpredictable nature of horse racing, even the Unanimous A.I. team was careful to note that the swarm was fun but it would be a difficult event to forecast. The swarm nailed it and the rest is history, as Unanimous A.I. software has been used to predict sporting events, political races, and pop culture phenomenon ever since. (Here's more on how swarm AI works.)

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

    After Reese wrote the TechRepublic report on the Derby swarm, she went to the Derby and placed a $1 bet on the swarm's results. It returned $542.10. The Unanimous A.I. team's $20 bet returned $10,842.

    The story got picked up by news outlets across the world, including:

    As a result, Churchill Downs decided to get involved with an official swarm for the 2017 Kentucky Derby. Unanimous A.I.'s swarms are usually done with a random set of people who use its group decision making platform to come together and generate a collective prediction. But this year, Churchill Downs is bringing together a set of the world's best horse racing analysts and handicappers to make up the swarm that will predict the 2017 Derby.

    The track is deeming this the "super-expert" pick for the Kentucky Derby and its official wagering arm TwinSpires.com will use this as the basis for a $10,000 Player's Pool that the public will be able to buy into.

    The swarm will be conducted at Churchill Downs on Wednesday and TechRepublic will be there to cover it. The results of the swarm will be released to the public on Thursday, when we will publish the results.

    TechRepublic's editorial department has had its headquarters in Louisville since the site launched on May 3, 1999—the Monday after Derby weekend. And TechRepublic has covered Churchill Downs' journey into 21st century technology from the installation of the world's largest ultra high definition 4K video screen in 2014 to its use of Internet of Things sensors on horses to its big mobile upgrades in 2016.

    SEE: How the world's largest 4K video screen infused new flair and tradition into the Kentucky Derby

    We will have photos, video, and all the latest information from this year's official Derby swarm, so stay tuned to TechRepublic this week for the details. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for real-time updates. We'll also have information for how to participate in the Player's Pool based on the swarm's super-expert picks, for those who are interested.

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    About Jason Hiner

    Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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