Amazon and Microsoft agree their voice assistants will talk (to each other)

Those betting big on AI making voice the dominant user interface of the future are not betting so big as to believe their respective artificially intelligent voice assistants will be the sole vocal oracle that Internet users want or need.

And so Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are today announcing a tie-up, which will — at an unspecified point later this year — enable users of the latter’s Alexa voice assistant to ask her to summon Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant to ask it to do stuff, and vice versa.

Here are the pair’s respective statements on the move:

Quoth Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft: “Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us. Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

Said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, Amazon: “The world is big and so multifaceted. There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience. It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana.”

And here’s how they sum up the win-win benefits they see for their respective users by letting their voice assistants interoperate:

Alexa customers will be able to access Cortana’s unique features like booking a meeting or accessing work calendars, reminding you to pick up flowers on your way home, or reading your work email – all using just your voice. Similarly, Cortana customers can ask Alexa to control their smart home devices, shop on, interact with many of the more than 20,000 skills built by third-party developers, and much more.

The main thing to note here — aside from how clumsy it’s going to be having one voice assistant summon another — is that Cortana and Alexa play in very different spheres; one being productivity and business user focused, and the other being ecommerce/entertainment and consumer focused.

Which means there’s little strategic reason for Alexa or Cortana to be overly territorial vis-a-vis each other at this point vs — on the flip side — the extra utility they reckon they can reap by agreeing to integrate their products and expanding the relative capabilities of each.

So really this alliance is mostly a commentary on the slender individual utility currently offered by each/any of these heavily hyped voice assistant technologies.

In an interview about the tie-up with The New York Times, Bezos envisaged a future where people are turning to different AIs for different areas of expertise — akin to asking one friend for advice about hiking and another for restaurant recommendations.

“I want them to have access to as many of those AIs as possible,” he is quoted as saying.

Bezos also professed himself open to the idea of interoperating with Apple’s Siri and Google’s eponymous voice AI — although he confirmed neither had been approached.

And, to be clear, there seems zero chance of Apple and Google inking on the interoperability line, given they control the two dominant mobile ecosystems and therefore have different strategic ecosystem priorities vs Amazon and Microsoft (the two companies which, let us not forget, lost out in the mobile platform race).

So, in sum, if you can’t beat the dominant mobile platforms, you can at least forge wider product integrations to try to offer a more compelling app proposition.