Innovation

TechRepublic's 'swarm AI' predicts 2016 Belmont winners

Using Unanimous A.I.'s UNU platform, TechRepublic assembled a 'swarm' to predict Saturday's Belmont Stakes, after swarm AI successfully picked the top finishers of the Kentucky Derby and the trifecta for the Preakness.

Image: screenshot, BelmontStakes.com

Okay folks, we are doing it again! The incredible success of Unanimous A.I.'s platform UNU, which used swarm intelligence to predict the superfecta at the 2016 Kentucky Derby—beating 540-1 odds—has prompted our team at TechRepublic to conduct our own experiments using the platform.

How does the swarm work? It assembles a group of people to make real-time decisions online. The group is presented with a series of answers for a given question, like "Who will win for Best Actor in a leading role?" and each individual drags their "magnet" to the correct answer, while the "group" decision moves towards an answer—kind of like a virtual Ouiji board (see below).

Image: Unanimous A.I.

At the end of May, TechRepublic gathered a small group to predict the Preakness winners. While we didn't hit the superfecta, (the top four horses, in order), the group did correctly predict the trifecta, (the top three horses, in order)—which means that many betters doubled their money that day. This is considered a big win, especially given that the swarm was very small—only seven people participated. Unanimous A.I. recommends swarms of at least 20 people, to increase the diversity of the group.

"Basically, the more participants we have, especially participants who really know the topic being predicted, the more knowledge there is to draw from," said Louis Rosenberg, CEO of Unanimous A.I. "When we did Oscar predictions, we used 50. For the Superbowl predictions, we used 75. The problem with horse racing is that it's much harder to find people who genuinely follow the sport."

To give Swarm AI another go, TechRepublic assembled a group to decide the superfecta for the third and final part of horse racing's Triple Crown, the 148th Belmont Stakes, which will be held at 6:37 p.m. ET on Saturday at the "The Championship Track," The Belmont Park Racetrack in Elmont, New York.

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

The swarm gathered online on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET. This time, we had 16 people, from places as dispersed as Australia, the UK, and Kentucky. This group was not scientifically formed, and many were from Louisville—including TechRepublic senior editor, Teena Maddox; and managing editor, Bill Detwiler.

img2969.jpg
TechRepublic Senior Editor Teena Maddox makes her Belmont predictions with the swarm
Image: Hope Reese/TechRepublic

Here were the picks for the superfecta:

  1. Exaggerator
  2. Suddenbreakingnews
  3. Stradivari
  4. Destin

Take a look at the swarm's real-time predictions for win, place, and show in the GIFs below:

belmont-win.gif
Image: Unanimous A.I.

belmont-place.gif
Image: Unanimous A.I.

belmont-show.gif
Image: Unanimous A.I.

David Baltaxe at Unanimous A.I., who helped run the swarm, made several observations about the prediction. The group had high confidence that Exaggerator would win, and that the next four horses would include Suddenbreakingnews, Stradivari, Destin, and Cherry Wine.

However, the group was torn between Suddenbreakingnews and Stradivari for second place. They also weren't sure that Cherry Wine wouldn't make the top four—four people in the swarm commented in a side chat box that they thought Cherry Wine should have been in the top four.

SEE: New research shows that Swarm AI makes more ethical decisions than individuals

What does "confidence" mean, in swarm terms? It includes a number of factors, including how long the group took to come to a decision, how different the prediction is from initial surveys, and how many people change their prediction mid-way through the swarm.

If the superfecta predicted by TechRepublic turns out to be correct, only one person out of the 18 who completed the survey prior to the swarm would have predicted it.

Given the unpredictability, he suggests some variations in the predictions. Here are recommended superfectas:

  1. Exaggerator, Suddenbreakingnews, Stradivari, Destin
  2. Exaggerator, Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews, Destin
  3. Exaggerator, Suddenbreakingnews, Stradivari, Cherry Wine
  4. Exaggerator, Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews, Cherry Wine

Despite the relative uncertainty of the group, I will be placing my own wagers around these predictions, based on past success: A $10 straight superfecta on Exaggerator, Suddenbreakingnews, Stradivari, and Destin; a $10 straight superfecta on Exaggerator, Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews, and Destin; and a 50 cent superfecta box (meaning the horses can place in any order) on two of the four combinations, #1 and #3 above ($12 each; $24 total); total: $44.

Have your own predictions? Do you trust the swarm? Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: The Belmont prediction is an experiment, and TechRepublic does not encourage gambling. If you do decide to bet on the Belmont, please check your state gambling regulations first.

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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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