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Putin as Person of the Year
Vladimir Putin on Time’s cover? It could happen, based on the prediction from Unanimous AI. (Kremlin / MagazineYourself Photoillustration)

The guessing game has already begun for Time’s Person of the Year pick, and according to a Silicon Valley company called Unanimous AI, Russian President Vladimir Putin is favored to follow in the footsteps of President Donald Trump.

To reach that conclusion, Unanimous uses a hybrid of crowdsourcing and artificial intelligence that it calls “Swarm AI.” The company assembles a group of about 40 folks who are familiar with the topic at hand, and then uses software to guide them through an iterative process of ranking and eliminating prospects.

The computer-aided tug of opinions eventually focuses the swarm on a single choice. The process has been known to outperform movie critics when it comes to predicting Oscar winners. And last year, Unanimous AI correctly anticipated Trump’s selection as Person of the Year (although that seems to be an obvious choice in retrospect).

Is Putin that clear a choice? Unanimous gives this year’s prediction a low confidence value, which means there’s room for doubt. Looking further down the list, Trump came in as the No. 2 consensus pick, but it seems unlikely that the same person would be picked two years in a row, doesn’t it?

No. 3 is a late entrant in the field: the #MeToo movement to call out sexual harassment. It’s unusual but far from unprecedented for Time’s POTY spotlight to fall on a class of people rather than an individual. Previous examples include U.S. scientists (1960), whistleblowers (2002) and Ebola fighters (2014).

For what it’s worth, Putin isn’t the unanimous favorite on other forums. So far, the top vote-getter in Time’s online poll is Sheik Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s controversial crown prince. And bookies see French President Emmanuel Macron as a slim favorite over a Trump repeat.

But who knows? Once Russian hackers get involved, anything could happen.

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