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Microsoft Wants You to Educate Its Virtual Assistant

Microsoft's virtual personal assistant Cortana.

Microsoft's virtual personal assistant Cortana will be "sassy," to encourage dialogue with users.

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft's forthcoming mobile operating system upgrade will include Cortana, a virtual personal assistant that is designed to become more intelligent as people use it.

Cortana gains knowledge about users, and researcher Larry Heck believes his effort to use the data streaming through it for continuous improvement will help the tool sustain its relevance. Cortana is programmed with a sassy personality to encourage dialogue with users, and Heck says the likelihood that Cortana will learn what users really want is increased when they feel they can talk back to it.

He says Cortana also is more refined than Apple's Siri in handling follow-up questions or commands, for example by being able to respond to queries about how long it will take to reach a specific restaurant after providing a list of suggestions.

"The quality of the data [Heck's team gathers] and how they learn to use it is going to determine the success of Cortana," notes SRI International's Norman Winarsky.

Heck's team will apply methods from the online search realm to identify and correct Cortana's mistakes, for example by noticing a person hitting the back button. Heck says Cortana's integration with Microsoft's Bing search engine increases the potential for the knowledge the app can build.

From Technology Review
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