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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.  

Cortana

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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