Microsoft has a new virtual assistant, and it’s a hybrid of Siri and Google Now, with some artificial affect thrown in for good measure. The Verge’s Tom Warren dishes on the upcoming feature of Windows 8.1, describing Cortana, the digital aide in question named after an AI character from the Halo series of games.
Cortana will be a circular icon in terms of how it’s visually represented in the OS, with animations that trigger when it’s speaking in response to queries, or “thinking” while processing them. It’ll display emotions through these animations, Warren reports, with bounces for happiness and frowning for displeasure depending on what it’s doing. Bing, Foursquare and other data sources will provide Cortana with its digital intelligence, according to the report, and make it so that it can offer some of the contextual smarts of Google Now, the Android-based anticipatory helper.
The most interesting feature of Cortana might be its transparency in terms of what data it does and doesn’t use – Warren says it’ll offer a “Notebook” feature that lists exactly what kind of information a user is granting Cortana access to, including stuff like location information, biographical points, reminders and contact info. Cortana is designed to learn more about a user through use, but that information won’t necessarily be stored in the Notebook without a user’s okay to do so. Finally, Cortana is said to be replacing Bing as the overarching search feature for the Windows Phone mobile OS.
It’s interesting that digital personal assistants are essentially becoming table stakes as a built-in feature of mobile platforms. Microsoft’s entrant might gain some advantages from the work the company has done on Kinect wizardry for the Xbox One, but that device still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of natural language processing, so it’ll be interesting to see how much, if at all, it improves upon the tech used in the console peripheral.