The World Cup has not been a very happy hunting ground for the menagerie of animal psychics trying their paws, fins and tentacles at picking the match winners, and Baxter the robot is determined to prove science’s superiority over animal instinct
Designed for industrial purposes, the American-made robot housed in Moscow’s Robo Station predicted a few hours before kickoff that France would beat Belgium in Tuesday’s semi-final in St Petersburg.
Several of Baxter’s competitors, including Achilles the clairvoyant cat and Timon the meerkat, have fallen out of fashion after a false prediction or two, while an octopus in Japan suffered an even worse fate.
Rabio the oracle octopus was boiled and butchered despite correctly predicting all of Japan’s group stage matches, and speculation is rife that the country’s last-gasp exit in the first knockout round might be mysteriously linked to his demise.
Baxter’s handlers, however, think their robot’s data-crunching mastery gives him a decided edge over his rivals, who might be motivated more by the treats on offer than any particular love for ‘the beautiful game’.
For each prediction, Baxter receives the latest statistics on the teams, including number of goals, ball possession and previous results, before he applies an algorithm to arrive at the winner.
“The statistics are updated after each game and the robot collects his own statistics and according to that, he makes a choice between the two teams,” said Sergei Vasilyev, a senior engineer at the Robo Station.
The names of each team are placed in little red boxes and Baxter is programmed to pick up the one with the name of the winner he has selected.
While there’s no doubt in Baxter’s circuits that France will reach the final, only time will tell if he is suffer the same ignominy as Mitya and Solnyshko, the dolphins in Yaroslavl who incorrectly said hosts Russia would beat Croatia in the quarter-finals.
(Writing by Simon Jennings in St Petersburg; Editing by Christian Radnedge)