Cortana, a Microsoft revolution in voice assistants and Big Data
The launch of Cortana as part of the package of innovations offered by Microsoft in Windows 10, though it has actually been available since April 2014 on Windows Phone 8.1., has heated things up considerably within the voice assistants sector. Siri, from Apple; Google Now, from the search giant; and Assistant, from Blackberry, are the major benchmarks in a market that is no longer fragmented by device and operating system. Some of them compete on rival platforms by launching specific applications for both Android and iOS.
Cortana is a personal assistant that works by means of the natural language recognition technique and uses the Microsoft Bing search engine and the Yelp and Foursquare recommendation applications as databases to respond to user requests. It is really easy to activate: as with Google Now, it responds to a simple command such as ‘Hey, Cortana’. In the Spanish version, it is activated with a simple ‘Hola, Cortana’.
For now, Cortana is only available in seven countries: US, UK, China, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. It is expected to reach Japan and Australia over the coming months along with an English language service for Canada and India. By the end of the year, it will be launched in Mexico and Brazil, as well as a French language version for Canada.
The features that make Cortana special include:
- It opens applications, gives information on the weather or flights, searches your phone book, enables and disables device alarms, creates personal notes… it even has capabilities that have raised a few laughs on social networks: Cortana can tell jokes!
— Andresito (@Andresito_epi) julio 10, 2015
- The Microsoft assistant not only replaces keyboard commands with the user's voice, it is able to perform tasks autonomously: it indexes personal information and sends notifications containing relevant information. For instance, it can suggest congratulating a friend on their birthday, send information about the user's interests…
- Cortana has a memory: it is able to remember a contact by their name, but also by a nickname or however they are commonly known. To contact my mother, I can call her with a simple "mom".
- Cortana doesn't have hands, but almost: the Microsoft voice assistant can handle the controls of a video player. It can choose a song, play it, pause it, choose the next song or the previous one.
Cortana's linguistic and cultural development
Developing Cortana required a comprehensive strategic plan in various phases. Microsoft's new 'toy' is the end result of focus groups in each country of origin, followed by the work of a team of writers, editors, programmers and dubbing actors to personalize each Cortana experience.
This is what gives the assistant both common and distinguishing elements:
- Cortana is positive, self-confident, intelligent and transparent in every single country where it's been launched. That's its common identity.
- Cortana speaks the local language, but also the idioms, slang and cultural patterns specific to each country's language. According to Microsoft, this enables their assistant to grasp the importance of self-critical humor in the UK, concerns about pollution in China, national identity in Italy, manners and courtesy in Japan…
This has all been possible thanks to the work of Microsoft Research and their advances in the study of machine learning algorithms, semantic/natural voice recognition or the field of data mining.
Cortana, a part of something bigger
Microsoft not only includes Cortana as a personal assistant in Windows 10, it also understands that it is a key component in the use of large data sets. That's why it is included in the Cortana Analytics suite, a business intelligence solution that incorporates all of Microsoft's advancements in voice recognition, machine learning, real-time complex event processing, analytics tools, scorecards and data visualization…
The Cortana Analytics suite incorporates Cortana, Microsoft Machine Learning (its image or text recognition APIs or recommendation and prediction systems), Azure HDInsights, Azure Stream Analytics, Power BI, Azure Data Lake or Azure SQL Data Warehouse. Everything you need for Big Data processing, from collecting and storage through to value extraction.
According to Microsoft, this new suite is an all-in-one offering many advantages:
- Use of machine learning algorithms to predict the future.
- Improved decision making with the extraction of value from data, the formulation of recommendations and the automation of processes.
- User and customer recognition with facial recognition.
- Recognition of objects within images.
- Voice recognition for personalized responses.
- Semantic comprehension of text for the analysis of comments and messages from users and customers on a website or forum to detect problems or business opportunities for companies.
- Extraction of value from data, independently of any variable: Volume, Variety and Velocity, the 3Vs of Big Data.
- Data work environment: R, Python and Hadoop.
- Secure storage of data in the cloud.
- Scalability to petabytes as needs increase.
- Interaction with data through natural language processing techniques and personalized recommendations on specific actions.
Cortana will be Einstein, an Artificial Intelligence project
What is more, Cortana is part of something much bigger. According to a report by Reuters, Microsoft is working on a new voice assistant that will incorporate the best of Cortana, but with far greater capabilities. The project, known as Einstein, is developing a technology that will enable us to anticipate user requests based on their physical location and the specific time of day. This would be a quantum leap forward in voice assistants: a proactive, not just reactive, technology.
The idea behind Einstein is to achieve a voice assistant that, through the use of machine learning techniques, is able to know where the user is and what they want to do, what they're looking for and what they need at that particular moment. Pure AI.
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