Cortana, the digital personal assistant familiar to users of Windows phones, could soon show up on devices running Android and iOS, according to an exclusive report Friday by Reuters. Before that, though, it will next appear on PCs with the rollout of the Windows 10 operating system this fall.
Named after an artificial intelligence (AI) featured in the video game Halo, Cortana on Windows phones displays a sassy "personality" much like her gaming namesake. Microsoft researchers are now looking into ways to make the digital assistant even more intelligent, helpful and even human-like through a project called "Einstein," Reuters reported.
The revelation that Cortana could makes its way onto devices made by Microsoft's rivals is news that hasn't been reported before, the article noted. However, it added, that development is in keeping with Microsoft's new efforts to promote its software for use on platforms other than its own.
AI Research to 'Make Life Easier'
Citing comments made during an interview with Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research, Reuters reported that the Einstein project is aimed at creating a smarter digital assistant that can "provide the most support services that make life easier, keep track of things, that complement human memory in a way that helps us get things done."
The prospect of Cortana coming to other operating systems raises the AI stakes for both Apple and Google, which both have personal assistant technologies of their own. Apple's Siri, which has appeared on iPhones and other iOS devices since 2011, answers questions and provides other assistance using natural-language technology. Google, developer of the Android operating system, offers a similar assistant in the form of Google Now, rolled out in 2013.
Horvitz's biography on Microsoft's Web site says he is "pursuing research on principles of machine intelligence and on leveraging the complementarities of human and machine reasoning."
"My own view is that AI will be incredibly empowering to humanity," Horvitz said in an interview with Science magazine earlier this year. "It will help solve problems, it will help us do better science, it promises to really help with challenges in education, health care, and hunger. I think there are lots of opportunities there on the upside. In many ways, some of the concerns that I've had over the years have been more about what I call the rough edges that can be addressed."
Shades of 'Her'
Microsoft's Cortana already conjures up images of "Her," a recent Spike Jonze movie in which a writer falls in love with an intelligent computer operating system.
Kat Holmes, Microsoft's design director for Operating Systems, said in a Microsoft blog post that she was struck by the resemblance when she saw a trailer for the film.
"There were some uncanny similarities to Cortana," she said. "Our goal was to make Cortana hyper-personalized by having her start with simple chit-chat, then grow with you over time....Seeing a similar idea in a movie was potentially really cool, or really, really bad."
In addition to providing spoken answers to more mundane questions, Cortana can already field trickier queries such as, "Who's your Daddy?" Her answer: "Technically speaking, that'd be Bill Gates. No big deal."