What Happened When an AI Hive Mind Answered Reddit's Burning Politics Questions

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What Happened When an AI Hive Mind Answered Reddit's Burning Politics Questions
The Hive Mind has spoken: Jet fuel can melt steel beams.

An artificial "Hive mind" called UNU visited Reddit on Wednesday to answer questions about US politics (and weigh in on a couple of memes, I guess). Why? The idea is, its creators argue, that a swarm of lots of minds working together is better at predicting the outcome of something than any single person would be.

The company behind this Hive mind comes bearing a track record: It correctly predicted the first through fourth place finishers at the Kentucky Derby, using a "swarm" of 20 experts on horse racing. The US politics swarm that answered questions for this AMA, by contrast, was comprised of individuals who responded to an online ad placed on Reddit and a couple of other sites, and their only required expertise was to be an American of voting age.

The Hive's demographics, provided by Unanimous AI, skewed younger (75 percent of participants were under the age of 36), more male (59 percent male, 41 percent female), and more liberal (22 percent Republican, 42 percent Democrat, 36 percent independent) than the general population. The company didn't collect data on the race or ethnicity of the participants.

The TL;DR (too long; didn't read) is that the Hive mind is really feeling the Bern, but doesn't think Sanders will actually win - instead it predicted that Hillary Clinton would be the next president. Also, it doesn't like Clinton at all.

The idea here is that instead of using a poll or a survey to figure out what a group is thinking, a swarm will simulate the experience of thinking together. The way this particular one, UNU works, is kind of like a visual chat.

In the chats, usually grouped by topic, users are asked a question, and they have 60 seconds to answer. The way you answer is a little more complicated than simply clicking a button and voting. Each person has a little virtual magnet, which they can use to help move a puck over the answer they think is correct. The whole thing looks like a chaotic Ouija board. The more people pulling the puck in the direction of one answer, the quicker it moves to that answer. While you vote, you can see everyone else's little magnets, too, giving you an idea of what the group is thinking.

We asked Louis Rosenberg, chief executive of Unanimous A.I. about the results, and he said he wasn't too concerned about the demographic disparities between the Hive and the general population. "I've also learned not to second-guess the answers that UNU gives," he said, noting that about a year ago the swarms they collected to answer politics questions "seemed overly enthusiastic about both Trump and Sanders," in contrast with discussions in the national media about those candidates. "We were concerned UNU was off base - but instead, it seemed UNU was just ahead of the curve," he added.

This column covers the Internet, so we'll leave in-depth political analysis to the politics team. But it is worth noting that the UNU results do reflect at least one point backed up by polling: Sanders, pitted against Trump in a hypothetical general election, consistently does better than Clinton.

"Every swarm that we create has its own unique makeup, which means it has its own emergent intelligence with its own personality and sensibilities," Rosenberg said, adding, that the Reddit sample was "highly informed," and that the questions it answered were more predictive than preference-based.

"All this said," he added, "if we were making a scientific prediction (not a discourse on Reddit) we'd field a swarm with participants that bring the expertise we value."

© 2016 The Washington Post

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