Microsoft Wants Cortana To Be "Assistance," Not Just Assistant

Microsoft wants consumers to think of Cortana as "assistance," not an assistant, according to the company's Vice President of Cortana Javier Soltero. The Redmond, Washington-based technology giant is building its artificial intelligence service as an extension of supported operating systems and doesn't want it to be viewed as just another individual app. Microsoft's AI team is now "looking at things people do at home, work and in between" with the goal of identifying scenarios wherein an intelligent digital helper could offer assistance, having adopted that strategy as one of its primary ways of developing new capabilities for Cortana, the industry veteran told ZDNet.

While the likes of Google and Amazon recently signaled they're interested in making their AI assistants more human-like, Microsoft's purpose-focused approach to AI development will likely slow down major Cortana advancements on that front, at least in the immediate future. That state of affairs still won't see the current Cortana persona eliminated, Mr. Soltero claims, adding that the company remains interested in developing the service as a true assistant as well but believes focusing on applications will make developing interactions easier.

Mr. Soltero was appointed to lead the Cortana team several months back, having advanced through Microsoft's ranks in a consistent manner ever since joining the tech juggernaut in 2014 through the acquisition of his former email service startup Acompli. He's now facing the major task of taking some market share away from Google Assistant, Amazon's Alexa, and Apple's Siri, all three of which are already deeply entrenched in various aspects of electronics, having managed to achieve widespread adoption. While recent studies suggest Cortana as a whole is presently narrowing the ability gap with Google Assistant, currently the most advanced consumer AI in the industry, that performance improvement has yet to translate into any kind of a market share increase. Cortana is presently available on Android and iOS smartphones, Windows computers, and select smart speakers such as Harman Kardon's Invoke.

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