July 9, 2014
Microsoft’s Cortana Nails All World Cup Predictions
The digital personal assistant on Windows Phone 8.1, Cortana, has correctly predicted the outcomes of all elimination round matches at the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup so far. Reports of the smartphone feature’s success already began to appear during the first elimination phase, the round of sixteen, and the accuracy has continued with the quarter finals.
Using Microsoft‘s Bing search engine, Cortana pulls together huge amounts of data to come up with the predictions in a system, which certainly appears to work. Microsoft’s own explanation was quoted by the International Business Times as saying, “For the tournament, our models evaluate the strength of each team through a variety of factors such as previous win/loss/tie record in qualification matches and other international competitions and margin of victory in these contests, adjusted for location since home field advantage is a known bias. Further adjustments are made related to other factors which give one team advantages over another, such as home field (for Brazil) or proximity (South American teams), playing surface (hybrid grass), game-time weather conditions, and other such factors. In addition, data obtained from prediction markets allows us to tune the win/lose/tie probabilities due to the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ phenomenon captured by the people wagering on the outcomes.” Similar methods have also predicted the outcomes of reality TV shows such as Dancing With The Stars and American Idol.
World Cups and other major soccer tournaments have had famously accurate predictors before, of a much more organic nature; Paul the Octopus correctly ‘predicted’ the outcomes of 11 out of 13 matches during the 2008 European Championships and 2010 World Cup. Other less successful pundit creatures include donkeys, macaws, and the penguin that changed its mind about the England versus Italy game in the group stages of World Cup 2014, once under pressure under media scrutiny. A cynic may conclude that animals don’t have a Christing clue which teams are going to win soccer matches, but it’s all good fun. Unless you’re the penguin who entered a phase of booze-fueled self-destruction after failing to handle the spotlight.
Is Cortana any more genuine? Well, one would assume so – the technology and systematics behind the predictions seem pretty solid. But one might point out there has not been any real shocks in the elimination rounds of the World Cup so far. Costa Rica have certainly been the surprise package of the tournament, and reaching the quarter finals is a notable achievement. However, the only game that Cortana had to predict them to win before getting that far was against Greece. No disrespect to the cradle of democracy, but they are not exactly a powerhouse when it comes to the World Cup. Perhaps Colombia versus Uruguay was the toughest to call, on paper anyway. Once Uruguay’s Luis Suarez had been sent home for biting an opponent during the group stages, it became more apparent that Colombia, who were already looking good, would progress. Although almost certainly unable to ascertain the psychological effect on Uruguay players of having had a player sent home for trying to eat a fellow professional, Cortana could use its ‘wisdom of crowds’ feature to see how the public felt about the impact on Uruguay of having lost their star player.
Predictions for the semi-finals, now that is a tougher question. Microsoft tells us that Cortana has already made her prediction; a Germany-Argentina final with the Dutch and the hosts Brazil being eliminated. With star player Neymar out injured, Brazil was highly beatable. Meanwhile, Argentina still has their superstar Messi available.
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