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Bing Predicts – psychic visions or howls of derision?

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Bing Predicts – psychic visions or howls of derision?

With the vast majority of us using Google for our every search, web users might joke that the only prediction worth making when Bing is involved is what on Earth it’s going to return to you for your search terms. Still, appearances at Manchester’s SAScon events over the last few years have made me realise that while Microsoft is not every industry expert’s favourite company, there does appear to be a number of them who rate its search engine highly.

One thing Bing does seem to be trying to do is out-humanise Google, aiming to do a little more than simply respond to the user’s query by doing a degree of the ‘thinking’ itself. Among the nifty features it’s extolling in a quest to become a more intuitive and perceptive tool is Bing Predicts, which uses social media activity to forecast the results of events away from the online world, such as sporting events, political developments and reality television.

Looking at the Bing Predicts homepage, you don’t have to search very hard to find some impressive claims, like 85% accuracy in the last Cricket World Cup, 75% in last year’s Women’s World Cup and 71% in Wimbledon.

Not so remarkable is the 51% achieved for the 2015 Premier League, although it should be remembered that league football matches involve a lot of draws, meaning it’s not just a win/lose prediction as it is for knockout competitions. Also, the homepage includes mentions of Euro 2016 and the English Premier League, but as of the time of writing (Friday morning), the ‘Go now’ buttons just take you to Bing’s search results for ‘Euro 2016’ and ‘Premier League predictions’ respectively. You can’t actually see Bing’s predictions.

Therein lies the main problem with this engine – it’s all a bit muddled and it’s hard to keep track of what Bing is predicting. On June 14, just over a week before the UK’s EU referendum vote, Bing announced that it was predicting the result. Going by June 13 analysis, it went for 55.4% vote in favour of Remain, which obviously turned out to be some way off. However, this is the last update on the subject, so we can’t see whether this gap narrowed as the vote approached, and what kind of factors may have led it astray.

At present, Bing Predicts reminds me of a gambler who only tells you when he wins. He’ll proudly announce that his £1 bet at 100/1 came in, but he won’t tell you that he had £500 riding on the favourite in the same race. It does appear that there is a new Bing Predicts website under development though. Let’s hope it’s a little more transparent and easy to navigate than the current set-up, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it interesting to consider whether online and social media activity can really foretell the results of real world events.

John Murray
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