Last week, I attended the second annual Bing Ads Next conference at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, WA. Like last year’s event, it provided a look into what’s on the horizon for Bing Ads.
It was a great conference filled with knowledge-sharing and networking. I love the fact that Bing is listening to us – and they’ve really stepped up the pace at which they release new features. Think back to last year at this time, and all the issues you probably had: using the online UI and Editor, dealing with weird errors and login troubles, and other challenges. It seems like Bing Ads released a record number of updates this year, to the point at which they’re pretty close to Google in terms of features, and are ahead of them in others.
I love hearing about the latest and greatest when it comes to search engine marketing. One of the best speakers of the one-day event was Stefan Weitz, Director of Search at Microsoft. He did a demo of new Bing technology that can anticipate and predict a searcher’s actions without query input, based on the context of their interaction. Microsoft uses reactive processing to incorporate the knowledge that’s already out there, such as flight schedules and traffic reports, and combine it with what they know about you as a user. They can then offer suggestions tailored to you as an individual – going beyond the 10 blue links ranked by a single algorithm.
Stefan showed other cool technology, such as Cortana and its natural language learning abilities, which make it more like talking to another person instead of a search engine. In the example he demoed, he searched for “barbecue,” and the system showed Korean BBQ restaurants nearby. Think about that for a minute: “barbecue” is a vague term that could mean lots of things: a barbecue grill, pulled pork, a party you’re attending, or the Korean variety. Because Cortana knew Stefan’s preferences, it showed Korean restaurants. Pretty nifty.
He also showed us the predictive capabilities of Bing. Bing Predicts looks at things like elections and NFL game predictions and provides odds, of sorts. Bing predictions go beyond exit and phone polls – this is actual forecasting based on millions of bits of data. Here’s an example:
Here’s another one for the NFL:
Wow. Here’s more information on how it works.
There’s no doubt: this is super cool. It’s also scary to me.
Think about the election predictions for a minute. In the screen shot above, it shows that Gary Peters is going to win the Michigan Senate race in a landslide. (Remember, this is based on data Bing has, including who’s talking about the candidates, how much they’ve spent on advertising, sentiment, news articles, and other factors.)
Now, let me tell you a little bit about this Senate race.
These two are vying for a spot that’s been held by Carl Levin for the past 35 years. I don’t remember a time when Carl Levin wasn’t in office. This is huge for the state of Michigan and for the US Senate. We need as many people in the state to come out and vote as possible.
And yet, if I were thinking about voting for Terri Lynn Land, and I saw this, would I bother to go vote, seeing that she has no chance? Would I be tempted to just sit at home and watch the Bing Predicts data instead of watching TV coverage of the election? Would I decide my vote doesn’t matter?
I personally won’t decide any of these things, but I fear others will.
And what about the NFL example? Will people go out and put their money on the Bengals in Vegas because Bing Predicts gives them a 76% chance of winning? Is that easy money for me? Should I quit my job and just start using Bing Predicts to place bets?
Again, I wouldn’t do any of those things – but others might.
Don’t get me wrong – this stuff is incredible. Just 10 years ago, who would have dreamed of search going this direction? We are getting very close to being able to say, Star Trek-like, “Computer, report!” and getting back actual, meaningful info. (I’d love to do that for my weekly and monthly PPC reports!) We can get our email on a watch. It’s awesome.
And yet, what are the social implications of all this? I’m a bit scared that our elections might be predicted by a search engine.
What about you? Is this cool, and I need to just tell everyone to get off my lawn? Or are you just a little concerned about the machines predicting everything? Share in the comments!