Update 5:40pm ET: With Germany’s 1-0 win over Argentina in the final, Microsoft’s prediction engine had a perfect record in predicting the knockout stages of the World Cup.
The most accurate predictor of the knockout stages, Microsoft’s predictions, have been perfect for every match of the final stage of the World Cup. Generated using a mathematical model, Microsoft predicted an Argentina-Germany final. And it has been predicting a German victory today.
The predictions, delivered in its Bing search engine results and through its Cortana virtual assistant on Windows phones, are part of a broader effort to give people not just relevant search results, but information about the things that interest them that keeps them coming back to Bing, according to Craig Beilinson, Microsoft’s director of consumer communications.
“The elimination round has been magical for us here at as we watch all of these predictions come true,” Beilinson says. “It’s been a fun computer science experience here and we think a lot about where we can take it. We hope it’s fun for people to see more than just search results, to see more information that they can follow.”
The Microsoft team started out making predictions for things where people determine the outcome, specifically reality TV shows where people vote including The Voice, American Idol, and Dancing With the Stars, using things like search data and analysis of social sentiment from data partnerships with Facebook and Twitter.
“Really for the first time they weren’t going blind watching their favorite shows—they had some inkling of an idea whether the person they were rooting for was in trouble,” Beilinson says. “We had incredible results from an accuracy perspective across these shows and that gave us confidence to try other things.
The team then tried their hand at the NBA draft, with impressive if not perfect results, which led it to the World Cup.
“You’d imagine this is a pretty complex algorithm to get right, right? And anything can happen, hopefully you’ve been watching these matches and seeing how close they are, there’s no perfect algorithm,” Beilinson says. “But the team has spent a lot of time looking into what would make an accurate predictions, the previous record of these players playing together, the kind of turf are they playing on and what are they used to, how far away are they from Brazil, does this really feel like a home or away game. Teaching a PC if you beat up on a weak team, how valuable is that compared to a close match against a really good team? Taking all of the data and having it come up with a set of predictions was our goal.”
More detail on the model, which draws on the work of Microsoft researcher David Rothschild, is available here.
After a rough opening round where the engine got about 60% of the answers right, Microsoft is thrilled that the knockout stages are going so well.
As to why the knockout rounds have been better, part of it is that the favorites have tended to win at a much higher rate. But others have still managed to make high-profile misses, like FiveThirtyEight’s prediction that Brazil would beat Germany and win the tournament.
The team plans to do more predictions in the future, on everything from this November’s US midterm elections to possibly the Emmy awards or movie box office totals.
Microsoft’s latest World Cup run has prompted comparisons to the success of Paul the octopus in predicting Germany’s 2010 World Cup games.
“Any sea creatures that want to take us on are welcome,” Beilinson says.