Innovation

Swarm AI predicts the 2016 Kentucky Derby

A software platform that uses the intelligence of the crowd to make collective decisions predicts the horses that will come in first, second, third, and fourth at the Kentucky Derby.

Image: iStockphoto.com/Hans Christiansson

For those betting on the 142nd Kentucky Derby on Saturday, there are several ways to approach the strategy. Last year, Jimmy Fallon's puppies took a stab at it—and correctly predicted the winner, American Pharoah. Or, you could rely on the experts from the Bleacher Report. Maybe you want to study up on your own, or see which horses are looking good that day.

But there's another method, and it may be better than all the others: Artificial intelligence.

SEE: How 'artificial swarm intelligence' uses people to make better predictions than experts

Unanimous A.I.has built a software platform called UNU that harnesses the power of the crowd to make predictions. Instead of the popular neural network, which emulates brain activity, "swarm AI" looks to a different part of nature: The insect swarm. The concept is that the various units of the group will influence each other in order to arrive at a correct decision—one that is more accurate than any individual prediction.

The tool has been remarkably accurate in the past, predicting winners for the Super Bowl, Oscars, and even predicting how political candidates would perform in the primaries. For the 2015 Oscars, a group of seven UNU users (all non-experts) accurately predicted 11 out of 15 categories correctly—in under a minute. The 73% success rate beat experts at the New York Times, who only achieved 55% accuracy.

SEE: Can artificial swarm intelligence predict the Oscars? Here are its picks

I asked Unanimous A.I to do a swarm to predict the Kentucky Derby. On Thursday, they collected a group of 20 participants who claimed to be knowledgeable about the race. The group narrowed the horses down to the top four. Then, the UNU users predicted the winning order:

1. Nyquist
2. Exaggerator
3. Gun Runner
4. Mohaymen

(For reference, here's the final lineup for the race.)

"The UNU swarm intelligence seemed to strongly favor Nyquist for the win, maintaining conviction in that pick even after an unfavorable post position was announced," said Louis Rosenberg, CEO of Unanimous A.I. "Of course it's horse racing, so there's no such thing as a sure thing."

The swarm had met on April 28 before positions were announced and had previously predicted Mor Spirit to be in the top four, but later removed him due to poor post position.

kd-first-place-2.gif
Image: Unanimous A.I.

Not all AI experts believe that swarm AI is the best method for predictions, however.

"If swarm AI worked as advertised, it would be easy to monetize it via prediction markets," said Roman Yampolskiy, director of the Cybersecurity lab at the University of Louisville. "Huge amounts of money are waged on Derby outcome, as we don't see such betting happening it is a strong testament to the system's questionable performance, even in the eyes of its designers."

How well will the swarm do? The answer will be revealed after the official Derby race on Saturday at 6:34 p.m. ET.

*UPDATE: Unanimous A.I.'s top four predictions, in order, were correct! I placed my $1 bet on the race at the Derby on Saturday and made $542.10 — the odds of winning the superfecta were 540-1. None of Churchill Downs's experts correctly predicted the top four, in any order.

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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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