We’re all quite familiar with how intelligent an individual can be when compared to the thick-headedness that is often displayed by mob mentality, a phenomenon that can make the collective intelligence of groups appear to be a hopeless throwback to more primitive times. But conversely, history has also seen numerous examples of large groups surpassing a problem that the collective is faced with — so long as the group is collectively focused on the question at hand.

The question is, how do we provide that focus for large groups, so that the collective wisdom that can come from that emerges more reliably? The answer to that, according to a new Silicon Valley startup, is bees.

Unanimous AI launched in June of 2016, and has developed a tool that harnesses what they call "swarm intelligence", where hundreds of participants respond to a question simultaneously, essentially a crowdsourced opinion, and their software pools that collective insight into a single, congruent answer.

“If you look at social species like bees they work together to make better decisions,” explains Louis Rosenberg, Unanimous AI’s CEO. “That’s also why birds flock and fish school — it allows them to react in optimal ways by combining the information that they have. The question for us was, can people do that?”

The company has so far fielded over 230,000 questions to 50,000 registered users, providing answers to myriad questions. There is also a marked prescience to some of the predictions made regarding events that haven’t happened yet: accurate predictions were made for the 2015 Academy Awards; the winners of the 2016 NHL’s Stanley Cup; and the first four winning horses — in their proper order – of the 2016 Kentucky Derby.

The swarm intelligence process isn’t like simply voting on the correct answer to a poll: the participants collectively move an icon toward one of two or more answers that appear on their screens. The process allows the individual participants in the group to influence the others as a whole, until the collective decision converges on one answer.

“Swarms will outperform votes and polls and surveys because it’s allowing the group to converge on the best answer, rather than simply finding the average sentiment,” says Rosenberg. He also sees this form of swarm intelligence as a way of keeping the advance of traditional AI from outpacing human intelligence, by maintaining human participation in machine intelligence.

“We can’t stop the development of smarter and smarter artificial intelligences. So our alternative is to make ourselves smarter so that we always stay one step ahead.” 

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