Print 6 comment(s) - last by inperfectdarkn.. on Sep 5 at 2:32 AM

Walter Sun's team at Bing is testing new prediction technologies using America's most popular sport

While iOS 8 should make Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) Siri substantially smarter, Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows Phone voice-controlled assistant Cortana currently enjoys a nice lead in natural language processing and the ability to interface with multiple apps to perform useful functions.

Cortana is a commercial product, but it's also a bit of lab experiment for the folks at Microsoft.  During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Microsoft showed off its increasingly sophisticated prediction algorithms, which correctly guessed 15 out of 16 winners in the knockout round stage.  Its sole mistake was picking Brazil to beat the Netherlands (whoops) for third place in the consolation match.

Now it's shifting its interest from soccer (or football, as it's known to the rest of the world) to American "football".  Cortana now predicts the outcome of National Football League (NFL) matchups.  To use the feature, you need a Windows Phone 8.1 device and to be in a region with Cortana support.  With Cortana active, simply ask:

Who will win <Team A> or <Team B>?

Microsoft is predicting that the defending champs, the Seattle Seahawks will beat beat the Green Bay Packers in the opening matchup this Thursday.  While it might be a little biased its general algorithm is based on a handful of key quantifiables.  


Writing about it during the World Cup, it explained:

For the tournament, our models evaluated 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 well-known bias.  We also took into account other subtle factors which give one team advantages over another, such as home field (for Brazil) or proximity (for South American teams like Argentina), playing surface (hybrid grass), game-time weather conditions, and other such factors. 

Its NFL algorithm is even smarter, incorporating advanced sentiment analysis as an organic predictor.  It writes:

For pro football, we model the respective strengths of the teams by examining outcomes from previous seasons including wins, losses, and the very rare tie outcome (two games since 2009), factoring in margin of victories, location of contest, playing surface and roof cover (or lack thereof), weather and temperature conditions, scoring by quarters, and multiple offensive and defensive statistics. 

In addition to this prior model, we identify fans on Web and Social sites and track their sentiment to understand the aggregate wisdom of this expressive crowd.  This introduces data which statistics alone cannot capture, providing real-time adjustments which surprisingly can capture injury news and other substantive factors in win probabilities.

This isn't just fun and games, however.  The same algorithms used by Cortana to pick winners are being used by Microsoft's crossplatform search engine Bing to literally "predict the future" in response to certain natural language search queries. 

The Microsoft project is being led by Walter Sun, Development Manager for the Core Ranking team at Bing.  The project in its more general form is known as "Bing Predicts".  

Walter Sun
Walter Sun, the manager behind Bing Predicts [Image Source: Microsoft]

In related news, after spending $100M+ USD on Farecast in 2008, Microsoft inexplicably removed airline fare prediction from its search engine earlier this year.  Farecast had been the work of University of Washington (UW) computer scientist Oren Etzioni, PhD who founded the startup in 2002 and sold it in 2008.  

Now the days of fare prediction are at an end.  So Bing can predict the future, unless that is, you ask it to predict your airline fares.  Do we smell a deal with top airlines? 

Sources: Windows Blog, Bing Blogs [1], [2]

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By inperfectdarkness on 9/4/2014 5:16:07 AM , Rating: 2
Does this mean that Fantasy Football will die off now? What about sports betting?

I'm really interested to see how this fares in the NFL. I myself was able to predice the knockout round of the 2014 world cup with pretty much the same accuracy--and I didn't think the mechanics of it were that difficult. It would have been much more difficult to predict that Espana, Italia & England would implode in the group stage, than it would to predict that (surprise, surprise) all of the group-stage winners would win their first knockout-round game (against the runners-ups).

I also wonder if this is going to impact how managers hire coaches/players. I mean, if you're a fan & you can just look to your smartphone to see if your team is going to suck this kinda promotes fair-weather fans.

RE: Interesting...
By kleinma on 9/4/2014 10:50:30 AM , Rating: 2
Fantasy Football isn't going anywhere because it has nothing to do with teams and everything to do with individual players. A team can lose and the QB can still put up 500 yards and 5 touchdowns. Just means the other team also scored 5 touch downs and kicked 1 field goal. The NFL LOVES fantasy football because it makes people interested in players, not teams. It makes people want to know what is happening in the rest of the league outside of just their home team and their home division. Stats also mean something on paper, but football is "any given sunday", and teams that on paper are supposed to crush the other team, sometimes don't. I bet siri or cortana couldn't predict the broncos superbowl melt down last year...

RE: Interesting...
By Labotomizer on 9/4/2014 11:14:02 AM , Rating: 2
I don't get why people who don't play fantasy football have a problem with those that do. It doesn't really affect anyone else.

As for fair-weather fans, those are going to be there and the types who do it will always be that way. Those of us who go to every home game on a 2-14 season will still be die hard fans of their home team. The unpredictability is why it's exciting. It's why a team like Arizona can have an absolutely terrible season and beat a team that wins the super bowl later that year.

RE: Interesting...
By inperfectdarkness on 9/5/2014 2:32:42 AM , Rating: 3
I don't get why people who don't play RPG's, Dungeon's and Dragons, Starcraft, etc...have a problem with those that do--either. Didn't stop all those currently-obsessed-with-fantasy-football jock a-holes who were the bane of my existence during my secondary education. Perhaps that's why it has a special place in hell--it's the poster-love-child of everyone who was a total jerk in their teenage years.

Maybe it's due to the fact that fantasy football is IN YOUR FACE huge (annoying so). Maybe it's also that fantasy basketball/baseball/hockey aren't even on the radar. (People do March Madness brackets, but nobody cares about how the individual players perform).

Furthermore, I suspect that predictions of individual performance won't be far behind, if computers are already able to generate 90% accuracy or better on picking games.

By Arsynic on 9/4/2014 2:22:27 PM , Rating: 1
Cortana is a fair-weather Seagull fan like the rest of them at Redmond.

I bet if I ask Cortana who Steve Largent is, she too will have to consult Bing like the rest of the new-found fans.

Fascinating social expierment
By WoWCow on 9/3/14, Rating: -1
“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads

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