DigitalProductivity The Daily Telegraph

Has Microsoft uncovered the key to World Cup glory?


Matthew Sparkes Deputy Head of Technology

June 30, 2014

The artificially intelligent helper Cortana has accurately predicted every single World Cup game since a software update gave it the ability to pore over tournament data – has Microsoft developed a prediction tool to rival Paul the Octopus?

Microsoft’s answer to Siri, Cortana, recently got the ability to predict the outcome of football matches in an update and has accurately called the winner for each of the past four World Cup games. That means that since the new service went live at the weekend the artificially intelligent personal assistant has a 100 per cent hit rate – something which even Paul the Octopus could not achieve during the 2010 competition.

Marcus Ash, Microsoft’s group program manager for Cortana on Windows Phone, tweeted earlier today to brag that Cortana was up four nil but that there were “many matches to go”.

Cortana’s latest prediction is that France and Germany will go through to the quarter-final stages today. It seems like a reasonably safe bet, as both teams are the favourites in their respective games – France will play Nigeria and Germany face Algeria in the round of 16.

Cortana has so far accurately predicted that Brazil would beat Chile, Columbia would triumph over Uruguay, the Netherlands would best Mexico and Costa Rica would beat Greece.

Twitter: Marcus Ash – #Cortana 4 – 0 so far. But many matches to go.

In a blog post announcing the new feature Microsoft said that predicting the outcome of football matches was trickier than television talent shows, on which Cortana has previously worked her prescient magic, that were voted on by the public: “The actions and performances of a handful of individuals solely determine who wins, loses, or ties.

“For the tournament, our models evaluate 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 known bias.

“Further adjustments are made related to other factors which give one team advantages over another, such as home field (for Brazil) or proximity (South American teams), playing surface (hybrid grass), game-time weather conditions, and other such factors.

“In addition, data obtained from prediction markets allows us to tune the win/lose/tie probabilities due to the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ phenomenon captured by the people wagering on the outcomes.”

Cortana is named after the AI character that appears in the Halo video games, and is voiced by the same actress that provided dialogue for the games. It was demonstrated for the first time in April this year and will become a key part of Windows Phone, Windows and Xbox One in coming months. Currently it is only available to Windows Phone users in the US as a beta.

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