Microsoft Hopes New AI Help Will 'Understand You'

Brandon Dimmel's picture

Microsoft is hoping that its upcoming digital assistant, currently known as "Cortana", will be Windows Phone 8.1's must-have app. Although it's not yet known when the app will be available, rumors suggest it will be released as early as April 2014, and will likely be extended to run on the PC.

The name "Cortana" is in reference to a female fictional artificially intelligent (AI) character in the Halo video game series for the Xbox / 360 platform, which was also created by Microsoft. In short: Cortana is Microsoft's answer to Apple's Siri application, which lets users employ their voice to send text messages, make phone calls, set reminders in their calendar, and carry out other routine but important actions.

Details about Cortana began leaking last year when a prototype Nokia device running the Windows Phone operating system was discovered on a bus. The lost phone -- which was reportedly grabbed up by someone and posted to Craigslist -- contained an early build of Cortana.

At the time, its functionality was very limited. However, recently leaked photographs and videos of Cortana in action suggest that Microsoft is getting very close to releasing the application to the public. (Source:

Voice-activated Digital Assistant May be Available on PC

According to reports, not only can Cortana carry out all of the aforementioned tasks, it can also be programmed to address a user by their first name and provide context-specific recommendations based on a user's current location.

For example, Cortana could be employed to help a user find a hotel, a specific type of restaurant (like Italian or Chinese), even a parking spot. To carry out these tasks, Cortana uses Microsoft's unique Satori technology, which the firm currently uses with its Bing search engine.

It's also expected that Cortana will eventually be available on more than just Nokia smartphones running Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 mobile operating system (OS). Insiders, including ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, have suggested the app will likely be available on other platforms, including PC, tablets (such as the Surface), and even the Xbox 360 and Xbox One video game consoles. (Source:

Ballmer Sees Bright Future for Cortana

It's clear Microsoft has high hopes for Cortana, whether it's released soon or sometime down the road.

Last summer outgoing chief executive officer Steve Ballmer promised that the firm's digital assistant would be able to "understand people's needs ... and will provide information and assistance." (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Are you an Apple Siri user, and do you use the digital assistance technology often? Do you think Microsoft is capable of releasing something capable of competing with, or even beating, Apple's Siri digital assistant? Would you buy a smartphone if it had an effective digital assistant application that could help you send texts and emails, make phone calls, schedule appointments, and even book a hotel room? Or, do you find this sort of artificial intelligence technology a bit creepy, especially considering Steve Ballmer's quote that it will able to "understand people's needs"?

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robmets's picture

I think it would be great if Microsoft could get a usable AI. The applications should be usable beyond it's smartphone. The convenience that a digital assistant provides is currently underrated and underused by many as it is. I think it's about time Microsoft got serious about this technology.