Can a search engine predict the World Cup? Microsoft Bing is giving it a try

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Microsoft’s Bing search engine, after using data to successfully forecast the results of American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and The Voice, will now test its predictive abilities on a contest with an even more passionate fan base: The World Cup.

Yes, the company is expanding its “Bing Predicts” initiative to the beautiful game, and hoping for a similar result. Microsoft launched the World Cup predictions effort this morning, letting users type in “World Cup Predictions” or “Group A Predictions,” for example, to bring up the forecast generated by its algorithm.

screenshot_72The effort is different from predicting the outcome of television shows determined by popular vote. In this case, for example, Microsoft can’t take into account the amount of buzz for a particular competitor as the primary indication of the ultimate winner.

Instead, factors used by the Bing Predicts algorithm for the World Cup include the teams’ records, strength of schedule, margin of victory in past matches, whether the location gives a particular team a home field advantage, and the influence of factors including weather and type of playing surface.

Bing says it is also double-checking its predictions against other “prediction markets” (hello, Las Vegas) to make sure that it isn’t overlooking a late-breaking development (like an injury to a key player) that its algorithm might not be taking into account. The company is also leveraging the work of its researchers, including predictions expert David Rothschild, to fine-tune its approach.

“We think it’s fun, but we also think that this is a neat way to show how we can derive insight from big data — taking all of these signals and using Bing as a platform to come up with results,” said Bing director Craig Beilinson in an interview with GeekWire.

Of course, there’s no shortage of predictive competition out there, most notably the site FiveThirtyEight, run by statistician Nate Silver, which is frequently cited by ESPN and other media outlets.

Microsoft is feeling confident, based in part on its success with reality TV contests. But how confident, exactly? I asked Beilinson if anyone on the Bing team would be confident enough to test the algorithm’s accuracy at the sports book. He laughed and paraphrased David Letterman: “As always, remember, no wagering.”

But depending on how things go, he said, the NFL and Academy Awards could be next. Here’s a look at which two teams Bing predicts will advance out of the eight groups:

Group A: Brazil, Croatia 

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Group B: Spain, Netherlands

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Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast

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Group D: Italy, Uruguay

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Group E: France, Switzerland

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Group F: Argentina, Bosnia

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Group G: Germany, Portugal

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Group H: Belgium, Russia

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Editor’s note: Think you can beat Bing? Got World Cup fever? Make sure to join GeekWire’s World Cup Challenge game here.

  • VSStudio

    Microsoft Research already had a successful prediction of Academy Awards 2014 and India’s General Elections 2014. I hope this makes it big.
    But how does this less than 50% chance work? Why do they say Italy has a 35% chance of a win over England? Doesn’t that make England a 65% chance of being a winner?

    • Emmanuel

      No, because you are not taking into consideration a tie, that could mean tie is more likely, but they are just displaying how has more chance to win.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Thanks for the question, glad you brought it up. I double-checked this with the Bing team, and it does take into account the possibility of a tie/draw.

  • CSS

    There’s a big difference between predicting the outcome of vote-based contests such as reality shows, where online trending is directly related to the outcome, and predicting skills-based sports contests, where popular opinion is irrelevant.

    • JamesSB

      It uses other methods to predict sports outcomes, team info, stats, homefield advantage, etc.

  • $200

    “…factors used by the Bing Predicts algorithm for the World Cup include the teams’ records…”
    Italy hasn’t won a match in 7 games (including a draw with Luxembourg last week), yet the predictions indicate they will win all 3 games. Hmm…