Has Microsoft's Cortana AI really predicted 12 of 12 World Cup games?


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Ten years ago, millions of young American men fought a desperate war against a relentless enemy, an enemy driven to kill by religious zealotry. They waged war in their living rooms, in their dorm rooms, and even, when necessary, in the basements of their childhood homes. Such was their dedication that many were known to fight on late into the night, clothed only in boxer shorts, with little to sustain them but day-old pizza, and with no comrades in arms save for a wisecracking but ultimately sympathetic AI known as Cortana.

The game was Halo, Microsoft's ( MSFT ) flagship title for the original Xbox . It spawned many sequels and expansions, changing dramatically over the years. Cortana, and her relationship to the player (it's complicated) was one of the few constants in the series. Yet after having inextricably (it seemed) linked Cortana to the Halo franchise, Microsoft decided to give Cortana a new life as the personification of its Windows 8 user interface.

Fast forward to the present day, when suddenly our former comrade in arms (oh yes, I played Halo) is stunning the world with her incredibly accurate (12 of 12) predictions of the winners of World Cup matches. What's going on here?

Unfortunately, this story is a bit more mundane than it may initially appear. Only in fiction was Cortana every really an artificial intelligence, or AI. In realty, she is a user interface, or UI. Technically, she should probably not be anthropomorphosized with the pronoun "she," but I haven't the heart to call her an "it." Not after everything we went through together.

Demystification of Cortana aside, there is a real and impressive accomplishment at the heart of this story, that being the update of Microsoft's "Bing Predicts" software, made just in time for the World Cup. While the world heard the saga of Cortana out-predicting everyone else in a series of tweets from Marcus Ash, the Group Program Manager for Cortana on Windows Phone, both Microsoft and Ash himself are quick to hand credit for the successful prediction algorithm to David Rothschild , a Microsoft researcher and economist. The algorithm, which updates on a minute-to-minute basis, relies on highly player-specific data, since the teams in the world cup don't have huge win-loss records against each other.

So what does the future hold? According to Rothschild, "This technology is helping us answer weightier questions than sports outcomes, covering a range of topics and data types." Sounds great to me!

Also, Brazil is going down against Germany. Cortana has spoken!

Julian Close has been a business writer since the first day of the twenty-first century, having written for PRA International and the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping. He graduated from Davidson College in 1993 and received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Mary Baldwin College in 2011. He became a stockbroker in 1993, but now works for Fresh Brewed Media and uses his powers only for good. You can see closing trades for all Julian's long and short positions and track his long term performance via twitter: @JulianClose_MIC .

This article was originally published on MarketIntelligeneCenter.com

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

This article appears in: Investing , Technology

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