Cortana marches on, undefeated. So far, Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana has been able to predict the outcome of every single one of the World Cup games of the elimination round — that's 14 out of 14.
It predicted correctly eight out of eight match results in the Round of 16, then the quarter- and semifinals and now, in the final games, Cortana seems pretty confident that the Cup will go to Germany – and that Brazil honorably claim the third spot.
"It's too early to say for sure,” Cortana says now when asked about Sunday’s final, “but I'd give Germany the edge over Argentina."
The software, Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri, bases its predictions on data collected by Microsoft's Bing search engine, which was updated a month ago just in time for the World Cup.
Other responses include: "Even Bing isn't sure, but maybe if you cheer really hard for Germany you can tip the scales." Or: "Probably Germany. But you never known what can happen in the beautiful game..."
In a June 11 blog post, Microsoft explained the World Cup prediction feature differs from television talent show forecasts in that popularity and sentiment signals do not play a role.
“The number of people who are fans of Brazil don’t necessarily improve its chances of winning. Instead, you want to model the competitive strength of teams and then leverage expert opinions, with prediction markets as a proxy for that,” said Walter Sun, Development Manager for the Core Ranking team at Bing.
Cortana’s model evaluates the strength of each team through a variety of factors such as previous win/loss/tie record in qualification matches and other international competitions. It also takes into account the margin of victory and adjusts according to location.
“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,” Microsoft says in the blog.
Cortana draws on the work of David Rothschild, an American economist with Microsoft Research NY Lab who among other things accurately predicted 21 out of 24 Oscar categories this year.
When it came to the World Cup, however, the rules of the game change.
“Sports are extremely predictable,” he explained, “but the World Cup is much more idiosyncratic. It’s more like politics in that way. We know a lot about how a generic Brazil team would do against a generic Croatia team, similar to the way I know how a generic Republican candidate will do against a generic Democratic candidate. Yet it is a whole lot less certain than how the New York Yankees are going to do against the Seattle Mariners with 60 baseball games of data already in the books,” Rothschild said before launching the new feature in early June.
“The World Cup … lacks a regular season, so each match tells me a lot, and the long duration of the event means I am making serious updates after every match, not to mention during the match,” he added.
Cortana, which can be voice activated or typed in, takes its name from the character in the Halo video game franchise. It is currently available to users of Windows Phone 8.1 in the United States, and will roll out to users worldwide in late 2014 and early 2015.