Cortana moves way beyond being a personal assistant

Microsoft’s Cortana voice-based personal assistant has always seemed a little out of place in the enterprise. It’s a useful tool for search, for reminders, and for letting you know when you need to leave to get to that meeting on time. But compared to Amazon Alexa’s growing list of skills, it’s lagging in the personal assistant race.

Yes, it connects to Office 365 and LinkedIn to give you some insight into your work, but then again so does Alexa. But if Microsoft delivers the Windows promises made last week at its Build 2017 developer conference, that’s all going to change.

As part of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s rearticulation of his original “mobile first, cloud first” vision as one of “an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge,” Cortana is getting a promotion. More than a basic piece of personal assistant software, with the next release of Windows 10 it will be the face of the intelligent agents that will populate Microsoft’s new blurring of the cloud and PC worlds.

Cortana gets new skills

Patty Maes at the MIT Media Lab came up with the idea of software that acts as an intermediary for its users back in the 1980s, but it’s taken time for the industry to deliver on her original vision. Conversational user interfaces like Cortana’s are part of an agent model, giving users something tangible to use as a basis for interactions. Behind the scenes, however, are tools like Microsoft’s cognitive services, as well as new ways of managing how we interact with information and our devices.

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