Swarm intelligence pulls off Kentucky Derby betting coup


Twenty punters collectively picked the top four horses in this year's race using a platform developed by an American company. Bill Condie reports. 


Mario Gutierrez rode Nyquist (purple helmet) to victory, with Exaggerator (green helmet) second in the 142nd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. But swarm intelligence picked the next two horses, Gun Runner and Mohaymen, as well.
RONALD C. MODRA/SPORTS IMAGERY//GETTY IMAGES
Researchers have pulled off a betting coup on the Kentucky Derby using swarm intelligence to predict the first four horses over the line.

Using a platform developed by the company Unanimous AI, 20 punters pooled their input and came up with the winning combination for which bookmakers paid 540 to one.

The company says it took its lead from nature when developing the UNU swarm intelligence platform. Swarm theory works on the understanding that a single bee or an ant is not smart, but their colonies are.

“Nature shows us that social creatures, when working together as a unified system, can outperform the vast majority of individual members when solving problems and making decisions,” the company’s website says.

The inventor of the platform, Unanimous AI chief executive Louis Rosenberg says the system could be “a major disruption for the field of gambling” but that is not his prime focus.

Instead, he says that artificial intelligence in the form of platforms such as UNU could be used in fields such as medicine, where doctors could pool knowledge when deciding a diagnosis or course of treatment.

Swarm theory suggests that individual members of a group will influence each other to arrive at the most accurate or probable answer.

“Forcing polarised groups into a swarm allows them to find the answer that most people are satisfied with,” Rosenberg told Christian Science Monitor.

“Our vision is to enable the power of group intelligence for everybody.”

In the case of the Kentucky Derby, 20 volunteers – all horse racing fans – took part in a simple online exercise to pick the winner of the race.

Each logged into the UNU program and were asked a question at the exact same time.

The individual users then used magnet-shaped cursors to drag a digital puck towards what they believe to be the right answer.

The puck is pushed and pulled until a collaborative decision settles on one answer (you can see an example in the video below).

A post-race poll of the 20 participants found that not one of them predicted the final line-up on their own.

It is not the UNU system’s first success at sports betting. In the past it has successfully predicting Super Bowls and NCAA bowl basketball games. It has also picked Academy Awards winners and presidential primary winners.



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