One of the most exciting features of Windows Phone 8.1 is Cortana, the digital assistant who is always on hand to help you out. Microsoft’s mobile assistant is already very impressive, easily rivaling Siri and Google Now, but there’s even more to come in the way of improved personalization and even anticipatory actions.
Microsoft Research Developer Larry Heck has great expectation for where Cortana should be heading. The Windows Phone tool can already learn what you might ask about at a given time of day, and there is also scope for calendar entries to be adjusted automatically based on information received in emails. But there is great potential for this to be taken much further.
Speaking of the work carried out by Microsoft Research that helped with the development of Cortana, Heck says: “The base technologies for a virtual personal assistant include speech recognition, semantic/natural language processing, dialogue modeling between human and machines, and spoken-language generation. Each area has in it a number of research problems that Microsoft Research has addressed over the years. In fact, we’ve pioneered efforts in each of those areas.”
In many regards, this is the level of artificial intelligence that computer users have dreamt of for years, but Heck wants to take things even further. “Speech and natural language processing are research areas of long standing, and so is machine learning. Plus, Microsoft Research is a leader in deep-learning and deep-neural-network research.”
Work started on Cortana back in 2009, so we’ve already come a long way in just five years. It’s difficult to say where we’ll be in another five years, but “the goal is to support all types of human interaction—whether it’s speech, text, or gestures — across domains of information and function and make it as easy as a natural conversation.”
It’s almost a cliché to say that a technology is only limited by the imaginations of those who use it, but it is a cliché because it is true. Think of it like this. Cortana is really just a baby, but it is already immensely powerful. With a little development and honing, things could start to get seriously impressive. The idea of holding a natural language conversation with your phone really might not be all that far off.