Microsoft Set to Release Cortana, a Supposedly Smarter Siri - Technologist
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Microsoft Set to Release Cortana, a Supposedly Smarter Siri

Iron Man has JARVIS. Knight Rider had KITT. We have Siri.

Or maybe Google Now's voice assistant, which lacks a name, personality, or snark. Neither has reached the levels of fictional artificial intelligence. Though Siri is finally leaving beta, her history has been dotted with limitations and mistakes. Google Now entered the scene later, and though it performs quite decently, it still seems like a milestone on the way to making sci-fi a reality.

But if Microsoft is to be believed, Cortana could be that reality.

Cortana's History

The Cortana character comes from the videogame franchise Halo, where Cortana is a "sexy" AI character. And though Halo took place in the distant future, we could see the fictional AI system become a reality now, as "zCortana" is an app leaked on a recent test build of the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system, reports Gizmodo.

What is Cortana?

We know this: at least on paper, she is supposed to be like Siri, but way more intelligent. Back in July, Microsoft's senior director for Bing, Stefan Weitz told Cnet that while the company is working on a voice assistant, he stated that "we are not shipping until we have something more revolutionary than evolutionary."

The underlying artificial intelligence is based on Satori, Microsoft's self-learning system that catalogs billions of pieces of information and chains the data together. Weitz provided the example of wine. Satori has cataloged 1.8 million bottles, and pulls characteristics like color, vintage, amount of rain, and grapes, all from various sources, into a central location. He told Cnet that Satori learns 28,000 DVDs worth of content every day.

Where it Differs

We won't know exactly until it ships, but Weitz described something far more aware than Google Now or Siri. With both of those systems, you ask a question, such as "What is the Lakers score?" and you get an answer. With a "path chaining" system like Microsoft is envisioning, the AI will already have answers to every related question, such as player stats, the next opponent, sources for tickets to the next game, and the league's standings.

Instead of a single response, the system will be able to predict anything you might want to know, and suggest related information.

Will it Work?

The simple answer is "who knows?" One consideration to keep in mind is data usage and battery life. Cortana is meant to be your cross-platform intelligent assistant, helping you on your computer, tablet, and phone. With mobile devices, there are limits to how much data you'd want to use and how much processing your phone can handle without killing the battery. Those issues can be mitigated, somewhat, by offloading the processing and data storage to cloud computers.

There's also the other burning question: does anyone want a completely Microsoft-controlled existence? So far, their tablets and smartphones have failed to make much of an impression in terms of market share. Of course, if they manage to bring us a JARVIS-like experience, that could change.

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