Microsoft's Cortana: rival to Apple's Siri named after fictional AI

The next-generation of 'intelligent personal assistants' will step even closer to sci-fi's vision of artificial intelligent, but will this be in name only?

Microsoft are reportedly building their own voice-activated personal assistant for smartphones to compete with Apple’s Siri. The twist? They’re naming it after Cortana: a holographic artificial intelligence that appears in the popular Halo series of games.

Rumours of Cortana’s existence first surfaced in June thanks to leaked screenshots of a Lumia Windows Phone, but sources familiar with the matter have spoken to tech website ZDNet, confirming that the technology will be “more than just an app” and will be “core to the makeover of the entire [operating system]”.

Microsoft has been hinting at a reconfiguration of Windows to a more voice-centric interface for months now. In Steve Ballmer’s memo to staff in July regarding the company’s big reorganisation the CEO made reference to “a family of devices powered by a service-enabled shell”. 

In plainer language, this means Microsoft’s core-services (search, email, etc) will be overlaid by a common user interface. Ballmer goes on to describe this system as “deeply personalized, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world.”

As well as making clear nods towards an artificial intelligence-style system, this also sounds extremely similar to Google Now: the search-giant’s comprehensive ‘intelligent personal assistant’ that answers questions via voice-commands and offers recommendations based on what it knows about your habits.

As with all these systems, the more information you give it, the better it will assist you. Plug your diary into the system and it'll notify you about upcoming meetings; let the system know where you live and where you go to work and it'll give you traffic recommendations for your daily commute.

However, it's joining up all these dots that really makes any assistant 'intelligent'. Microsoft handles this process with ‘Satori’ – a system embedded into the Bing search engine that connects information to create a richer, more human database of knowledge.

Although Cortana and Google Now promise to apply these contextually aware databases to your daily life they were first tested in search engines. Satori is the equivalent of  Google’s Knowledge Graph, stringing the ‘nouns’ of search together (the people, the places, the objects) to deliver more meaningful responses to your search queries.

Microsoft says Satori will “broker information among our services to bring them together on our devices in ways that will enable richer and deeper app experience".

In other words, Microsoft wants to bring to life the sci-fi dream of a computer that functions as a personal assistant; answering questions and commands in a manner that is intuitive and actually helpful.

With this in mind, naming the system after a fictional AI makes perfect sense, but it's also kind of sneaky. By identifying their future assistant with a fictional character beloved by millions of gamers (the Halo series has sold more than 50m copies worldwide) Microsoft are tapping into a pre-fabricated set of positive associations for the brand. However, this might be a double-edged sword. If they want to meet the expectations raised by the name Cortana, Microsoft are going to have to make science fiction a reality.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

    £30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

    Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Engineer - Linux, Windows, Cloud - Central London

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + 10% bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engin...

    Recruitment Genius: Configuration and Logistics Team Member

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has over 30 years ...

    Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

    £65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence