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Swarm intelligence is here to stay. And predict most things under the sun

Asad Ali | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

You know the problem with Artificial intelligence (AI)? It's, (duh!) artificial. Contrived. And, more crucially, it isn't human. However, while AI research and funding has skyrocketed, resulting in the continuous stream of high-science developments around AI, there's also been a parallel effort to boost 'swarm intelligence.'

Unlike AI, swarm intelligence is a method to tap into the collective intelligence of our human community and come up with answers to different questions - from sports to business. Not sure if that would make the grade? Turns out it definitely does. A swarm intelligence platform has just predicted the winners of the Kentucky Derby, often known as the "holy grail of gambling". It also guessed last year's Oscar winners (in 11 out of 15 categories) and they just wrapped up a Reddit AMA session around (mostly) American politics.

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The genius behind the horse racing and Oscar predictions, and also the ones behind the AMA is Unanimous A.I - a Silicon Valley startup. Their software - dubbed UNU - has been getting a lot of attention because of its ability to predict major events like the derby.

In fact, just last year, Newsweek had challenged UNU to predict the Academy Awards - UNU tapped into the intelligence network of 55 regular movie fans and made a fair of amount of accurate predictions by the end of it - 11 correct out of 15 categories. And most recently a reporter at TechRepublic used UNU to predict the Kentucky Derby Superfecta. Her resource? The collective intelligence of 20 horse racing fans on UNU. The reporter turned a dollar bet into 542 dollars. Here's what she put up as an update with her TechRepublic article -

"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' (the home of the Kentucky Derby) experts correctly predicted the top four, in any order."

Swarm whaa?

The basic concept of swarm intelligence can be traced to bees, fishes, ants and any creature that increases the collective intelligence of the group by forming flocks, schools, shoals etc - swarms essentially. And in all such cases there's one common inference - a unified approach to finding an answer outperforms individual efforts.Bees are a classic example - living in structured colonies and working mostly in groups for survival.

In fact, to substantiate the basis of the company's collective intelligence theory, the CEO of Unanimous A.I, Louis Rosenberg, uses a study of bees. UNU has a video out too explaining the science behind swarm intelligence for us lesser mortals:

You can simply log in to UNU and put your two cents into whatever relevant discussion/swarm intelligence session you feel is up your alley. There are various kinds of groups swarming to explore subjects like business, sports and even participating in caption contests.


For the Reddit AMA, participants came from UNU's user base - those who had already taken part in swarm endeavours on various subjects before. After signing in, users were presented with a question and its possible answers. The group or the 'swarm' had 60 seconds to drag a puck like object on the screen towards a probable answer. Individual participants can see and control only their own puck but the group's decision that finally gets reflected, is that of the swarm. Here's what the screen looked like while the AMA swarm was active:

And finally, here's a sample of some of the AMA responses to users' questions!

Will a manned Mars mission take place in the next 3 decades?


Will India and Pakistan engage in a nuclear war within the next 10 years?


Will North Korea start the next nuclear war?


What are the odds of campaign finance reform during a Clinton presidency (or any upcoming presidency for that matter)?


Do you trust Hillary Clinton?


COMMENTARY: The Hive Mind had surprisingly strong conviction on this point, with 95% certainty.

In the unlikely event of a three person race between Trump, Clinton, and Sanders who would win?

UNU says: "SANDERS" 81%

COMMENTARY: UNU was quite confident in this result, achieving 100% brainpower which indicates a decisive answer.

Should America continue support of NATO?

UNU says: "YES"

COMMENTARY: 100% brainpower reflects a decisive belief.

Would the democrats be better off with Bernie or Hillary to defeat Trump?


COMMENTARY: UNU had 99% conviction in this answer.

Will Hillary Clinton be indicted?

UNU SAYS: "I doubt it'

COMMENTARY: UNU expressed mild confidence in this answer, but not absolute certainty.

Is Donald Trump smart or are Americans stupid?

UNU Says: "Americans are stupid"

COMMENTARY: now would be a good time to remind everyone that UNU's opinions are derived from the confidence and conviction of the group that comprises the swarm :)

Would a Trump presidency be respected internationally?

UNU SAYS: I doubt it

COMMENTARY: UNU had moderate conviction on this point.

Does Hillary Clinton support the voter or Corporations more?

UNU SAYS: "Corporations"

COMMENTARY: UNU expressed high conviction on this point.

Who would lead the nation best in the event of a zombie apocalypse? Bernie, Hillary or Donald?


COMMENTARY: UNU was torn between Sanders and Trump, but ultimately made up his mind with high conviction - SANDERS.

If Hillary is elected will she impose more gun laws?


COMMENTARY: UNU was torn on this point, but converged upon YES - Hillary is likely to impose more gun laws.

Click here for the full AMA session.

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First published: 2 June 2016, 11:44 IST
Asad Ali @asadali1989

Asad Ali is another cattle class journalist trying to cover Current affairs and Culture when he isn't busy not saving the world.