Microsoft added a World Cup prediction engine to the Cortana virtual assistant program on June 28th (about two weeks after the World Cup actually began). Since then, it’s 12-for-12 at predicting winners. That’s absurd, because those 12 games involve Costa Rica’s surprising run to the quarterfinals, among other things.
A lot of the underlying work in the predictive space is from David Rothschild, who is a researcher and economist at Microsoft. He’s previously worked on any number of data projects for them, from the 2014 NCAA Tournament to India’s general election. He’s kind of like a corporate Nate Silver — that is, if you believe Nate Silver isn’t corporate.
Here’s a bit on the Rothschild / Microsoft model that’s gone 12-for-12:
“I have created a full model,” Rothschild explains, “but I rely heavily on the prediction-market data. The reason is simple: The problem with pure fundamental models is that even the best fundamental models are lacking because the World Cup is an event held just once every four years, without any regular season. There is a lot of idiosyncrasy in the event that is hard to capture in historical data sets.
“Both the fundamental data and the prediction-market data will update as the World Cup progresses. The predictions will update every few minutes, and I will also show the pregame predictions for all games.”
The peculiarities unique to the World Cup in the sporting sense serve only to help bolster and extend Rothschild’s models.
“Normally,” he explains, “sports playoffs do not actually update the predictions that much. 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.
Currently, the Bing / Cortana model has Germany beating Brazil (close) and Argentina beating The Netherlands (a little less close). That would give us a Germany – Argentina final on Sunday, which would be a rematch of the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals.
Interestingly, that would provide a good narrative leading up the 2014 final — Messi needs a win on that stage to become a true demigod, which is the same situation Diego Maradona was in back in 1986.
Hey, don’t bet against Cortana and Bing right now, ya know?