Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant, which has picked a perfect 14 straight winners in every game of the World Cup's knockout stage, puts "her" record on the line this weekend.
Which country does Cortana predict to win the World Cup? Germany, which annihilated Brazil 7-1 in the semifinal game. But it's the predicted winner of the third-place game that should raise a few eyebrows: Brazil, who Cortana favors over a Dutch team that narrowly lost to Argentina in a penalty shootout.
Although Cortana's successes have not received much mainstream attention, Microsoft's Bing-powered predictive analysis has so far proven perfect. Microsoft began implementing predictions following the end of group play, limiting the number of available matches that it could predict. But it's also knocked off some presumptive heavyweights; ESPN's FiveThirtyEight blog, for example, still favored Brazil over Germany, with 65 percent of its simulated games being won by the Brazilian side. (FiveThirtyEight explained its miss was an "extreme outlier" based on previous World Cup matches; it had originally given the edge to Brazil, in large part, due to its taking place on Brazilian soil.)
Cortana's expertise in large part rests on the shoulders of David Rothschild, a Microsoft researcher and economist, who leans heavily on predictive markets to come up with Cortana's predictions. One of the world's largest predictive markets, Betfair, picked Brazil to win the World Cup before the tournament began — which, to be fair, Rothschild's "Bing Predicts" model did as well.
"Normally, sports playoffs do not actually update the predictions that much," Rothschild explained before the Cup began. "There is a long regular season, and the way a team plays in any given game of the playoffs is not providing too much new, meaningful information. That is not the case in the World Cup, which 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."
Microsoft did not return requests for comment by press time.
EA's FIFA 14 and Bloomberg both predicted that Germany would reach the final game before the tournament event started, with EA predicting that Germany would win it all. (Its predicted opponent was Brazil, which Bloomberg said would win the tournament.)
Perhaps for that reason, Bing and Cortana gave Brazil the edge in the third-place game. But if there ever were a chance for an upset, according to PCWorld's unofficial soccer predictive technology (little more than a gut feeling) it will be that game.
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