A couple of weeks ago, I watched with amazement as an IBM computer, Project Debater, held its own debating a human in a live streaming event put on by Intelligence Squared US, a nonprofit debate-hosting company. Harish Natarajan, who was a grand finalist in the 2016 World Debating Championships, pitted his formidable skills against IBM’s Project Debater, which was programmed to speak in a female voice.

It was intriguing to see how well the artificial intelligence of Project Debater performed by calling on the newspaper and magazine articles in its own database and then synthesizing the information; it did not have access to the internet. Moreover, neither Project Debater nor Mr. Natarajan knew the subject of the debate until 15 minutes before it began (“Should we subsidize preschools?”).

While the studio audience for the debate thought that Mr. Natarajan was more persuasive, Project Debater did very well and its responses closely resembled those of a human. In the not-too-distant future, artificial intelligence will become much more sophisticated and will disrupt entire industries and ways of doing things. (Stephen Schwarzman, the founder of renowned investment firm Blackstone, recently donated an initial gift of $350 million to M.I.T to establish a College of Computing that will focus on artificial intelligence.)

Wealth management companies, for instance, are already offering low-cost services based on computer recommendations for portfolios. Another example: A recent article in the Wall Street Journal said that Derby City, Louisville, Kentucky, was one of the ten most vulnerable places in the United States to having human workers replaced by robots. Louisville has a huge UPS facility and a large appliance-manufacturing operation, and these kinds of businesses can be robotized. 

Human activities that artificial intelligence should be able to improve on in horse racing are handicapping/betting, bloodstock matings, yearling selection, and training. Artificial intelligence will make present-day computer applications in these endeavors look primitive. One of the advantages of artificial intelligence is that it can recommend decisions and solutions to humans that are fact-based and free of emotion. In addition, machine learning can make corrections based on experience.

Whether betting with the aid of artificial intelligence will be as much fun as the old-fashioned way is another matter. And don’t look for smart robots to replace racehorses and jockeys, at least not until computer-driven cars are perfected.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business


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