Meet the company trying to merge the human brain and A.I. to predict real-world events

Understanding the power of artificial swarm intelligence

Rather than being fearful of machines rising up against humans, one company is actively trying to merge the two, by combining human intelligence with computer algorithms to predict a whole series of real-world events.

Unanimous AI is a company that uses technology that draws from a concept commonly found in nature: swarm intelligence. Rather than using algorithms to replace human intelligence, the firm tries to amplify it.

“The artificial swarm intelligence really refers to the way in which we actually combine humans with technology in order to come to these amplified outsets, or amplified outcomes,” David Baltaxe, chief intelligence officer at Unanimous AI, said on Tuesday.

Biologists and zoologists have been studying swarm intelligence in systems of insects and animals, like fishes, birds and honeybees, for a long period of time, Baltaxe told CNBC at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference.

He explained that those animals and insects are smarter when they work together and handle different kinds of issues that would, otherwise, be far too complex to deal with individually. In many cases, he said, working together ensured survival.

As an example of how Unanimous AI’s artificial swarm intelligence concept works, last year it brought together a group of movie fans and asked them to predict the winners in the major categories at the Oscars, it said in a blog post. They logged onto an online platform and had 60 seconds to negotiate and agree on an answer for each category that best satisfied the group.

When those fans worked alone, on average they got 54 percent of their predictions right. Collectively, the group had an accuracy rate of 75 percent.

“We treat people as data processors,” Baltaxe said. “People are smart … they can take in a lot of information. Lot more information, in fact, than they actually probably consciously know they’re taking in.”

He explained that humans can not only work with facts and figures, they are also able to rely on opinions, instincts and gut reactions — something that machines cannot.

“When we bring these people together, and combine them with … AI algorithms, they’re able to actually process this information as a collective, and come out with better answers, greater predictions, much more accurate and much more satisfactory to all the people who participate,” Baltaxe said.

He added that amplified human intelligence could be applied to other areas as well, including financial services, health and human care as well as legal services.

“Our first commercial offerings are working with large businesses around the world to help them with various kinds of business intelligence issues, either on the consumer side or tapping the collective intelligence of their own, internal teams,” Baltaxe said.