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AI Simulates the World Cup and Picks a Winner

AI Simulates the World Cup and Picks a Winner

After an AI simulates the World Cup using millions of possible outcomes, a clear winner was selected, and it wasn’t even that close.

The World Cup 2018 is just a few days away, which means that people all over the world are preparing for it. Fans are buying up in their chosen country’s kits, TV networks are testing obnoxious new ways to sneak in ads, and gamblers are frantically looking for that one sure thing that will help them to predict the outcomes of the games.

We can’t really help you on that last one and if you plan to bet on games and don’t already have a clear idea of what you are doing you’re probably screwed anyway, but that didn’t stop Goldman Sachs from leading a little prognostication.

The investment bank used learning machines to predict the outcome of the entire tournament, from the group stages to the final match. The machines ran 200,000 models in an attempt to factor in as many variables as possible, while mining data on things like player attributes. It then simulated 1 million variations of the tournament in order to calculate the probability of how far each team may go.

The results were only a little surprising, as they match up fairly well with the current world rankings, but there were a few upsets.

AI Simulates the World Cup and Picks a Winner
To start with, the simulation gave Brazil the best chance of winning the entire tournament. The learning machines predicted that the second place team in the world, Brazil, would win their record sixth tournament, beating the number one team in the world, Germany, in the finals. Brazil was also predicted to beat France to advance to the last game, while Germany is expected to defeat Portugal to round out the final four teams.

A few of the other surprises have Saudi Arabia advancing out of the group stage ahead of host nation Russia (which wouldn’t be that surprising), while both Argentina and Spain were chosen to go out far earlier than expected, both losing in the quarterfinals.

Simulations for sports tournaments are nothing new, of course. EA Sports simulates tournaments all the time, and it is eerily accurate – it even correctly predicted that Germany would win the 2014 World Cup (although it was wrong about who they would play).

For the record, EA’s latest prediction calls for France to hoist the trophy after beating Germany.

Of course, simulations can never fully anticipate or prepare for the human factor. There probably weren’t many simulations that predicted Luis Suarez would bite an Italian defender in the 2014 World Cup, but it happened and it made a big difference in the group stage. The people running the simulation made sure that point was clear.

“We capture the stochastic nature of the tournament carefully using state-of-the-art statistical methods and we consider a lot of information in doing so,” they said. “But the forecasts remain highly uncertain, even with the fanciest statistical techniques, simply because football is quite an unpredictable game. This is, of course, precisely why the World Cup will be so exciting to watch.”

The World Cup begins on June 14 when Russia takes on Saudi Arabia at 8am PST.



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Founder and DBP boss. Ryan likes the Kansas Jayhawks, long walks on the beach, and high fiving unsuspecting people.