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Who will win today’s election? A.I. has answers

Well, it’s Election Day in the U.S. Since that’s probably all anyone in the world wants to read about today, we here at Eye on A.I. won’t try to fight the trend.

What does A.I. have to say about who will win the election? There are a number of artificial intelligence systems that claim to have a good track record at predicting election outcomes.

Most of these systems look at data from social media and then use sentiment analysis—which categorizes the emotions expressed in a text—to figure out whether a particular post is in favor or against a certain candidate. The systems then try to find a correlation between the quantity and quality of these expressions and voting patterns.

Studies have shown that A.I. systems designed in this way can predict election outcomes, sometimes more accurately than polls. In 2016, several A.I. systems based on social media analysis accurately forecast Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, even though most poll-based forecasts put Clinton in the White House.

The strength of these A.I.-based forecasting tools seems to hold, for the most part, around the world: A number of these systems correctly predicted that the U.K. would vote to leave the European Union in 2016, even though polls gave the “Remain” side a narrow edge. A 2016 study found that Facebook posts could be used to predict about 80% of the winners in Taiwan’s parliamentary elections. A 2018 study found that a sentiment analysis-based A.I. model could accurately forecast election results in India and Pakistan.

But such systems aren’t infallible. The same A.I. software that worked well for India and Pakistan, for instance, failed to accurately forecast an election in Malaysia.

So what are such systems saying about today’s vote? A system designed by a company called KCore Analytics forecasts that Biden will win the popular vote handily, but that his Electoral College margin will be razor-thin.

Similarly, the Italian-based A.I. company Expert.AI saw Biden in the lead, but only by a few percentage points—a much smaller margin than the seven-point lead Biden has in an average of national polls.

But Polly Pollster, an A.I. system created by Advanced Symbolics that correctly forecast both the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the 2019 Canadian elections, predicts that Biden will win easily, with Trump having only about an 8% chance of pulling off an upset. This forecast is similar to the non-A.I. one based on combining various state-level polls that is put together by FiveThirtyEight. It predicts that Biden has a 90% chance of winning.

These systems work in different ways. One system used deep learning to successfully predict the Indian election results, categorizing sentiment and then feeding those results into another neural network that correlates that sentiment with an election result.

Expert.ai, on the other hand, uses an older form of A.I., based on encoding human expertise in a knowledge graph, to generate its sentiment analysis, according to Marco Varone, the company’s chief technology officer. The graph is able to identify named entities—such as people, companies and places—better than many neural network-based approaches can, Varone says, and it can better understand complex relationships between words than some large statistical language models.

To guard against bots or other fake accounts potentially skewing its forecast, Expert.ai’s system is trained to weed out social media accounts that seem to only retweet content from other accounts, as bots often do, as well as to identify large number of accounts posting with extremely similar language, Varone says. The company also relies on human screeners to do some of this filtering.

Guarding against bots may be particularly important because, as KCore’s Herman Makse told The Independent, fewer of Trump’s likely voters than Biden supporters are on Twitter. That means tweets from Trump supporters are weighted more heavily in social media-based election forecasting models, so there’s a risk pro-Trump bots could make Trump’s chances appear better than they are.

And none of the election forecasts take into account how legal challenges (which Trump is threatening mount if the results don’t go his way in some battleground states) or “faithless electors” (members of the Electoral College who don’t vote for the candidate they had pledged to) might affect who ultimately is inaugurated on January 20.

And now here’s the rest of this week’s A.I. news.

Jeremy Kahn 
@jeremyakahn
[email protected]




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