As most users have probably noted by now, Apple phones have Siri and Android phones have Google-Now, but Microsoft phones have a very noticeable gap when it comes to a built in computer assistant. However, that is all about to change with their new creation, Cortana. And yes, for all you Halo fans out there, it is a direct reference to that wonderful blue AI. The software is expected to debut with Windows Phone 8.1 and packs a pretty impressive array of capabilities into its package. Cortana is expected to be able to pull data from Foursquare, Bing, and other Microsoft affiliated things as well. One of the cooler parts about Cortana is that she is expected to have both speaking animations and some degree of emotional inflection when responding to a query.
One of the most exciting expected features surrounding Cortana is with the Notebook, which is essentially a privacy control mechanism for those of you who are skittish about Microsoft collecting huge amounts of metadata or just uncomfortable with the software accessing certain data. Cortana will have the ability to access personal information, location data, behaviors, reminders and contact information. However, as previously mentioned, the notebook will allow users to precisely control what features and information the digital assistant can access. Another aspect with this system is that Cortana will progressively store data so that it in effect ‘learns’ what the user frequently requests. However, this is not an automatic function, everything that will be ‘learned’ on the phone has to have specific permission in order for it to be saved to the Notebook. And just like its Apple counterpart, Cortana is expected to use this information to make suggestions and personal greetings or ask if the user needs any help.
Cortana will apparently be able to scan emails, if allowed through the Notebook, to check for phrases that contain times or dates and then respond back to the user asking if they want to create an event or reminder. Features like this are an awesome peek into what digital assistants might be able to accomplish if given access to the requisite amount of data. Hopefully Cortana will have a bit better voice recognition than Xbox One (although I would not categorize Xbox One as being back, just very specific), and also have the potential to interact with third party apps as well. If Microsoft can make good on all that has been mentioned in this article, they might have a leg up on both Apple and Google. Additionally, it is not difficult to see that if Cortana is successful, it could be implemented into future Windows PC software as well. Until this comes out, I will be tentatively excited about the potential of this new software.