She will be able to remind you to buy milk the next time you are in the store. She will suggest you take an umbrella with you if it is raining outside. If necessary, she will independently reject the call and send an SMS in response to the temporary unavailability of the subscriber if you are sitting at an important meeting.

    It will help you plan your day based on your needs and many other factors (traffic jams, weather, etc.). It is not yet available for Russia, but now you can get acquainted with its capabilities (in a post we will tell you how). She is Cortana. And we want to dedicate this post to her.

    It took two years of research and development for the Windows Phone (version 8.1, which will be available soon on Nokia Lumia smartphones with the Nokia Cyan update) to have an intelligent assistant modeled on real personal assistants. And it was really a big job of a large team of developers, which, in addition to software engineers, included scientists, linguists and many other technical experts.

    The intelligent assistant was not developed from scratch - the company used its extensive experience of the past five years. So, Cortana works on Bing servers, in close cooperation with the team of which the development of voice assistant was going on.

    “We had an idea that might seem strange at first glance - to integrate a personal assistant into the phone,” says Marcus Ash, one of the leaders of the Cortana development team. “Therefore, in the process of creation, we talked a lot with real people, personal assistants of many leaders.”

    Marcus ash

    It was the model of behavior of people working in the position of personal assistant that became the basis of the concept at the very beginning of the development of Cortana. And, as it turned out, the work of such people is far from sugar. To ensure that their leaders always cope with their tasks efficiently, assistants must control huge amounts of various information, ranging from the deadlines for projects, meetings and meetings, to family holidays, travel plans and a bunch of other little things. At the same time, they need not only to be aware of everything, but also to foresee what their leader may need at the next moment.

    “It was important for us to do something a little more than just a voice-activated telephone control system,” says Marcus. “We wanted to create a proactive virtual assistant that would suggest what I want to do the next moment.” That should have been his main difference. ”

    At the same time, unlike competitive services that know too much about users and give out a lot of unnecessary information, or do not know anything, the developers managed to find the optimal solution. They gave users the opportunity to choose what Cortana should know, and what is best left out of its sight.

    Cortana Interface

    Just as each personal assistant has their own notebook, the developers have provided Cortana with the Notebook cloud service, where it could store the data about users that it knows.

    “If I may say so, Cortana has your collective image, which you can change at any time, for example, by saying“ No, I really do not want you to read my email, ”Ash explains. “This way you can fully control how much Cortana knows about you.” Everything is completely transparent. ”
    At the first launch of Cortana, users will need to answer some questions, such as name, food preferences, favorite movie genre, and so on. After that, the assistant starts his immediate work, providing the most relevant information that may be required at the moment, such as traffic jams on the way to work, reminders about flights or, for example, the results of the match of your favorite teams.

    The list of all the features of Microsoft's intelligent assistant cannot be listed in a single post. But it’s enough to list some situations in order to generally get an idea of ​​the level of her intelligence.

    For example, if the message (it doesn’t matter, in an email or SMS) contains a phrase like “let's meet at 8 pm,” Cortana will prompt the user to create an event on the calendar or a notification. She also quickly guides the user on travels, after downloading the latest information about the currency and weather.

    Cortana is very careful about the query context. For example, for “find me the best restaurant nearby” and “which restaurants are the best here”, she will show two different results with one best restaurant and a list of restaurants, respectively. And most impressive, she can understand the context of related queries. That is, if you continue to say the phrase “call there” or “how to get there”, Cortana will understand that you mean the very restaurant that she just found.

    In addition, like the now popular IFTTT service, this intelligent assistant can work with “triggers” only in its interpretation. An example - just ask Cortana "remind me to ask <...> when he calls <...>" and she will definitely do it with an incoming or outgoing call to the right person.

    For all its minimalistic look (Cortana appears to the user in the form of a simple animated circle), the developers tried to make it as “humane" as possible. This, for example, is evidenced by the fact that the voice of the intellectual assistant is actress Jen Taylor, who voiced Cortana in the game Halo.

    Note: The name Cortana is familiar to many gamers, as it came from the Halo game universe. That was the name of the virtual assistant to the main character of the series Master Chief. Windows Phone Program Manager Robert Howard suggested calling the voice assistant in Windows Phone exactly that name. “For a long time, it was just a draft version of the name,” comments Marcus Ash. “And there was a chance that we would not use it in the final version.” However, in the end, including due to user petitions, it was decided to dwell on this option, which goes well with the initial concept: to create the most realistic and humane digital assistant.

    The fact that she can answer simple questions and even joke also speaks of “humanity” Cortana. For example, to the question “Do you ever sleep?” She will answer with a joke “I never sleep!” Sleep is for laptops. ” If you ask her “Who is your father?”, You can get the answer “From a technical point of view, it would be Bill Gates.”

    Marcus says: “We did not want to create a strict and soulless interface. After all, nothing so disposes to itself as a bright personality. ”

    Cortana is capable of delivering witty or touching responses to many inquiries and even expressing emotions. But, of course, she has her own limit. However, according to the developers, these limits will constantly expand. For example, now Cortana, like Shazam, has learned to determine music by ear, as well as to predict the results of football matchesbased on the statistics of their performances.

    “One of the big challenges for Cortana is the further development of powerful machine learning algorithms,” says Marcus. “So far she has to work with a relatively small array of user data, but the more requests Cortana will receive in the future, the smarter it will become.”

    Cortana is currently in beta testing and is available to developers as well as owners of Nokia Lumia 630 and Lumia 930 smartphones on Windows Phone 8.1 in the USA. In the coming months, it will also become available for China and the UK, and then in other countries.

    In order to try Cortana on devices designed for the Russian market, you should follow these steps:
    • Go to the menu "Settings" → "Language + region".
    • Change region to USA.
    • Change the interface language to American English (US English).
    • Reboot your smartphone.

    “We are constantly making changes to the project, but we can talk about some significant changes in the project only when Cortana appears on more devices and markets,” says Marcus. “We want to make changes to the project, taking into account the feedback received from users.”

    “In the future, Cortana will be one of the elements of a common ecosystem that will revolve around the user,” he added. - Wearable electronics, personal computers and even cars know a lot about you and your habits. And they should help you optimize your life, better manage your personal time and be always in touch with people who are dear to you. Human-centric technologies are what we are particularly focused on now, and Cortana is an important part of them. ”

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