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Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, fell behind Google Assistant and Alexa in 2018. The software giant has been slowly repositioning Cortana as a skill that can run anywhere, rather than a rival to Google, Amazon, or Apple’s assistants. Microsoft now appears to be targeting Cortana at more conversational interactions for workers who are organizing their days. At Microsoft’s Build developer conference this year, the company is showing examples of how Cortana will be able to respond to conversations and organize meetings and reminders proactively.
Cortana can already do a lot of these features today, but it’s the conversational element that has been improved. Microsoft acquired Semantic Machines last year, and in combination with Microsoft researchers, it’s building conversational AI that will combine skills and context to let digital assistants like Cortana actually do the things you ask them to do. It’s designed to connect services that are owned by Microsoft and even third-party ones, so digital assistants like Cortana can get the right context when you ask it to add a calendar entry or organize reservations.
Microsoft is really aiming these new features at businesses, though. The company demonstrated this new conversational AI in a way that’s targeted at workers who are making meeting requests and shifting around schedules for colleagues. Microsoft envisions a future where each business will have its own virtual assistant just like they have a website, and they’ll be able to interoperate and interact with each other to get things done. Microsoft is making this new conversational engine available to developers through the company’s Bot Framework, and it will be integrated into Cortana, too.
It’s certainly more of a deliberate shift for Cortana. Microsoft moved Cortana out of its AI research division and into its Experiences and Devices team late last year, signaling a focus on Cortana being an assistant across multiple products and platforms. Microsoft’s Cortana chief also departed last year, and the company has repositioned Cortana on Windows 10, including separating it from search and silencing the digital assistant during the setup process.