March Madness? Not really. Microsoft's Bing took the sane route and picked undefeated Kentucky to win the NCAA men's basketball tournament, topping Duke in the title game.
The real news, however, is that Microsoft's Bracket Builder tool went live Sunday night. After crunching what it said were more than 9.2 quintillion combinations, Bing has picked a winner for every game in the tournament--and it will even handily export the bracket to the NCAA's own tournament pool for you to compete against celebrities and other players.
Microsoft's decision to build out the entire bracket is an unusual one; the company has previously predicted the winners of competitions including the World Cup; and NFL football, but always on a round-by-round, week-by-week, or game-by-game basis. Bracket Builder appears to be a new level of complexity for Microsoft and its Bing prediction tool. (Microsoft said last week that it would publish an entire NCAA bracket, however.)
For each game, Bing predicts the chance each team has of winning the game and the tournament, along with some key stats, such as the points per game and the number of free throws made. You can pick as many games as you'd like, then "autofill" the remainder with Bing's predictions. The Manahattan Jaspers, for example, have only a 2 percent chance of winning their opening game against Kentucky.
So how does the Final Four shape up? If Bing is exactly right, Kentucky beats Arizona to advance to the title game, and Villanova falls to Duke. Kentucky then tops Duke (giving the Wildcats a 55 percent chance) to win the trophy.
However, you also have the chance to affect fate yourself; even after autofilling the entire bracket with Bing's picks, you can go back and make your own selections. You can then autofill the rest, and Bing will calculate new winners and losers. (In the above scenario, a first round upset by the Jaspers gives the NCAA trophy to Arizona, with my alma mater, Notre Dame, making it all the way to the Final Four.) It's these "alternate history" scenarios that make the Bracket Builder tool intriguing.
Not surprisingly, Microsoft has also provided a schedule of the games, the ability to share them with friends--and, most importantly for the devoted fan--highlights.
Why this matters: Microsoft's Bing prediction engine has moved more and more into the spotlight, offering up picks from the Oscars to the World Cup. This is wildly ambitious, however--the equivalent of making a lotto prediction based upon the position of the balls. If the company gets anywhere close to perfection, look to Bing to become a player in sports betting.
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