Artificial Intelligence

'Swarm AI' predicts winners for the 2017 Academy Awards

For the third year in a row, Unanimous A.I.'s UNU platform has predicted winners for the Oscars. Here's how it harnesses the power of group intelligence in real time, and who it predicts to win.

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Image: LimaEs, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Wondering who will win the 2017 Oscars? Instead of turning to industry experts, film critics, or polls, you can try something else this year: Artificial intelligence.

A startup called Unanimous A.I. has been making predictions—like who will win the Superbowl, March Madness, US presidential debates, the Kentucky Derby—for the last two years. It uses a software platform called UNU to assemble people at their computers, who make a real-time prediction together.

UNU's algorithm is built to harness the concept of "swarm" intelligence—the power of a group to make an intelligent, collective decision. It's how flocks of birds or bees decide where to travel for the winter, for instance—a decision that no single entity could make on its own. The decisions are made quickly, in under a minute each.

When UNU first predicted the Oscars in 2015, it took a group of non-experts to guess the Academy Award winners—and the results were better than those from FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times, and a slew of other experts. When it predicted the 2016 Oscars last year, the platform achieved 76% accuracy—outperforming Rolling Stone and the LA Times.

This week, it met the challenge again, assembling a group of 50 movie fans to make real-time predictions.

The method produces answers that are better than each individual selection. It's not an average. Each user on the platform has a virtual "puck" that it can drag to the answer it chooses, like a digital Ouija board. By giving users the ability to see the other picks, it gives people the opportunity to change their mind in the middle of the question. Each member of the group influences each other this way. If the group decision is heading toward one of two selections that the user did not originally pick, there's an opportunity to advocate for a different choice.

The reason polls, surveys, prediction markets, and expert opinions are different from the swarm? In all of the previous methods, decisions are made individually, sequentially. In a swarm, the decision is made simultaneously.

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

Unanimous A.I. CEO Louis Rosenberg previously told TechRepublic that most people in the swarms have not seen all of the movies. Still, the swarm is successful because "fill in each other's gaps in knowledge."

Here are Unanimous A.I.'s predictions for the winners of the major awards in the 2017 Academy Awards (click the hyperlinks to see the swarms in action):

Best Picture: La La Land
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Viola Davis (Fences)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Mahershalla Ali (Moonlight)
Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman

Most of the predictions are in line with industry experts and polls, which show La La Land to be the favorite. But there are three categories here to watch, in which the swarm was not confident in its predictions—it was conflicted between two options. These categories are: Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Foreign Film.

For instance, many experts predict that Casey Affleck will win for Best Actor, but the swarm chose Denzel Washington. "The experts are weighing previous results heavily, most notably the Golden Globes, which Casey Affleck won last month," Rosenberg told TechRepublic about the new predictions. "But the Golden Globes is composed of the Hollywood Foreign Press, a very narrow demographic compared to the Academy." Rosenberg said he thinks the Swarm's pick shows that it's more in line with the Academy.

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Image: Unanimous A.I.

Beyond predicting sports games and entertainment, the swarm method has bigger implications. Rosenberg has seen a lot of interest from marketing companies who want to learn how customers would respond to a certain advertisement or product. A new tool offered by Unanimous A.I. called Swarm Insight could help businesses assess how effective their messages are, how they should think about pricing, and when it's worth taking a risk.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Unanimous A.I.'s UNU software platform is built on an algorithm that mimics how natural swarms make collective decisions.
  2. Unanimous A.I. assembles groups of non-experts to make group decisions in real time. It predicted outcomes—from the winners of the 2016 World Series champion to the 2016 Kentucky Derby superfecta—with greater accuracy than experts and polls.
  3. The method for using a group of non-experts to make real-time decisions has implications for marketing and advertising.

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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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