Artificial Intelligence Wins Almost $11,000 On Horse Bets

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We often prize the idea of independent thought. No doubt, it has its benefits when it comes to great minds doing great things. However, if the birds and the bees are anything to go by, we have a lot to learn from collective thinking – even if it is used to make some cold, hard cash.

Using a “hive mind” artificial intelligence platform, a group of individuals managed to predict the outcome of the top four winners of the Kentucky Derby. This 540-to-1 wager ended up winning a tidy $10,822 for the developers. So was it blind luck?

Dr. Louis Rosenberg, CEO of the Silicon Valley startup Unanimous A.I., developed the system dubbed UNU and detailed its ins and outs in this study.

Swarm intelligence in nature is a very weird and mysterious thing. Although not truly understood by science, it’s seen in the behavior of numerous species, such as ant and bee colonies, fish schools, and even microbial colonies. Essentially, it allows individual entities to group together their intelligence to create a collective intelligence. Poor humans, however, aren’t naturally endowed with this trick.

UNU's artificial intelligence algorithm is able to simulate this effect by pooling together individual people’s decisions into a system that is then able to balance the multiple predictions to form an optimal decision.

GIF demonstrating the principle behind UNU. Image credit: Louis Rosenberg/Unanimous A.I.

Enthused with curiosity and some healthy skepticism, Hope Reese from TechRepublic challenged Unanimous A.I. to use UNU to predict the winners of a horse race at the 142nd Kentucky Derby.

"We were reluctant to take this challenge," David Baltaxe, chief information officer at Unanimous, said in a statement. "Nobody here knows anything about horse racing, and it's notorious for being unpredictable."

However, they rose to the challenge and found a group of volunteers who were knowledgeable about the Kentucky Derby to order four horses that they thought would come first, second, third, and fourth. The odds of winning the Superfecta bet (a wager where betters must predict the first four finishers) was 540 to 1. Following the predictions from UNU, the Unanimous team put down $20 on the Superfecta.

Lo and behold, race day came around and they won $11,000 after UNU managed to correctly predict all four results in order. Even more oddly, none of the single individuals managed to call the full result correctly. They also found that even if the group had taken a conventional vote and chosen the most popular picks, they would have only correctly guessed one of the four results.

"Personally, I was speechless," said Rosenberg. "We've been blown away by how smart UNU has been in prior predictions, but when the horses crossed the line I almost didn't believe it, especially since we put ourselves out there by publishing the picks. And here's the amazing thing – while the Swarm A.I. got the picks perfect, not a single individual who participated in the swarm got the picks right on their own – not one."

The same artificial intelligence algorithm also managed to predict that Leonardo DiCaprio would win the Oscar for best actor this year (although who didn't). They also used it to ponder the Republican Party presidential primaries. So far, it’s all been a bit of fun. But this idea of using technology to create a “hive mind” system has some grand possibilities, from political votes to predicting markets.


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