At its annual Ignite IT conference in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft today announced Project Cortex, its first new commercial product since the launch of Teams. The general idea here is to allow employees to quickly find information that’s spread out across documents in Microsoft’s various services and make it available both through searches and, when its algorithms deem it appropriate, in the form of hover-links inside of Microsoft products like the Office apps, Outlook and Teams.
“As we have thought about people getting work done together, as we have thought about productivity — really broadly defined — for more than 10 years we have had this vision of being able to not only help people transactionally get things done but also allowing them to take a step back and capture what the organization knows and put that to use, put that to work,” said Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of its Microsoft 365 business, in a pre-recorded press briefing the company made available to the media ahead of today’s announcement.
So with Project Cortex, which Microsoft referred to simply as “Knowledge Network” in earlier materials it provided to the press, the company built a system that can ingest all of these artifacts, including all of the Office documents, email, chat logs and transcripts from meeting recordings that a company generates, and that then uses machine learning to classify all of this information into topics and topics collections to form this network.
“The whole idea here is that it’s kind of a spelunker that’s going down into all your content repositories, whether they’re in Microsoft 365, on-prem and file shares and other systems,” explained Spataro. “And it’s searching these things out and putting them together and saying, ‘hey, you have a project here,’ for instance a project or something you’re working on. I can put documents and videos and meetings together, calendar appointments. I can pull people and I can tell you what the organization knows in a 360-degree view about this topic.”
All of this data can then be surfaced inside Microsoft’s products. If you’re writing an email and Microsoft detects that it’s about a project that the Knowledge Network knows about, it’ll link that term so you can hover over the words and see additional information about it. It’ll show you who is working on this, when the work started, and a map that shows you this project or topic in relation to others. Ideally, this helps you identify the experts about a given topic inside your organization and make connections you would otherwise miss.
All of these are lofty ideas, and we’ve heard some of these promises before, in relation to the Microsoft Graph, which is a slightly different project but which was also meant to make all of the data inside an organization more accessible, though mostly by developers.
Project Cortex is now in private preview. It’ll be generally available in the first half of 2020.