Virtual Assistants: Microsoft Cortana Chatbot

Last Updated on November 12, 2020 by Sean B

A little while ago, a race started in which every tech company wanted to integrate some sort of voice interaction service in their devices and operating systems. It was the age that gave us Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa. Microsoft didn’t want to be left behind in that competition, so they responded with Cortana. Development of Microsoft Cortana started in 2009, and the virtual assistant was first released on the Windows Phone OS 8.1 in 2014 in the US, and shortly afterward, it was introduced in other countries.

What Exactly is Cortana?

First things first, Microsoft Cortana is more of an artificially intelligent digital personal assistant than a chatbot. It uses the Bing search engine to come up with answers to the users’ questions and performs tasks like setting reminders, managing your calendar, and looking up things on the internet as well as on the device. It was unveiled at the BUILD Developer Conference in San Francisco as a makeover of the Windows Phone OS. As of now, it is available in English, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese language. After April 2019, Cortana has been separated from the Windows search and is now a separate entity within the Windows operating system.

It was made available as a standalone app on Android in July 2015 and on iOS in December of the same year, but it was removed from these platforms in 2020. Microsoft is planning to invest more time and resources into the development of Cortana, and it is estimated that it will be way ahead of its competitors by the mid of this decade.

Microsoft named it Cortana after a synthetic intelligence character in the Halo video game franchise of Microsoft. The voice behind Cortana is Jen Taylor.

Using Cortana to schedule a meeting

How to Use Microsoft Cortana?

To get started with using Cortana, click on the Cortana icon on the Windows taskbar. If you don’t have any idea how it works, you can simply ask it “What can you do?”.

After you have set up your preferences for Cortana, you can open its settings and activate “Talk to Cortana”. That will enable you to wake up Cortana without having to click on it, just with the wake-up word that you set for it. Cortana is also capable of speech recognition, meaning that you can configure it to wake up at your own voice.

What is Cortana Capable Of?

If you are just another user trying to increase your productivity, Cortana can help you with the following things. It can do all of the following things without you having to use the keyboard.

  • It can act as your calendar manager and can keep track of your past activities, and can schedule your upcoming events. It can be linked with your Microsoft Calendar to get the birthdays of your friends, the local holidays, and events in the area of your residence and can then automatically set reminders for the events it thinks might be important to you.
  • It can take you to a Microsoft Teams meeting and can alert you of any upcoming meeting.
  • It can be used to create and manage different lists.
  • You can tell it through natural language commands to set alarms and reminders.
  • It can search the internet to get you information, facts, and definitions.
  • It can launch other apps on your computer with voice comm English, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese languages.
  • It maintains a “Notebook” that stores all the data about the user. It includes personal interests, information about loved ones, eating preferences, and other patterns. Microsoft claims that they provide the best privacy options, more than any other PA. The user can view and edit the data in the “Notebook” at any time.
  • Cortana is capable of reading the notifications from an Android Phone linked to your computer and can display your selected notifications in the action centre of your computer running on Windows 10.\The “Do Not Disturb” mode can also be activated on your computer by commanding Cortana. It can be done by telling it to do so, or you can specify timings during which it will be automatically activated, and you will have no interruptions in whatever you might be doing at that time.
Microsoft Cortana from Halo

Cortana Integration with Other Services

Microsoft has pushed technology to its limits by integrating Cortana with a number of their services. It is connected with the latest web browser from Microsoft, called Edge. Cortana can get the weather forecasts, find opening hours of businesses, and can look up for discount coupons while you are buying stuff online using Microsoft Edge.

Microsoft’s Car concept that is in the pipeline also includes Cortana integration in the self-driving cars, upon which, Microsoft is currently working.

Cortana was integrated into Skype video calling service in 2016 to make the app’s user experience smooth and flawless.

Privacy Concerns Relating to Cortana

Like any other Virtual Assistant software, Microsoft Cortana stores and indexes users’ information. You can disable this function, but the Windows search would still be able to look up your computer along with the internet when you run a search. Even turning Cortana off won’t delete the user data stored on Microsoft’s servers, but users can do that separately. Despite all that, Microsoft has been accused of storing user data even after they have disabled Cortana. A file on the computers running on Windows was spotted by some people that store all the search history of what one might have searched on the Microsoft Edge web browser.

The Final Verdict

Cortana is Microsoft’s take on the personal assistant thing, and it is a particularly capable one. It can do all that other personal assistants do and maybe even more. However, since Microsoft’s Phone OS is dead, you cannot enjoy the seamless experience using Cortana as that of Siri on iOS as there all the devices support Siri. People have privacy concerns regarding Cortana, but we need to realize that it is the price that you have to pay for using a personal assistant as that thing cannot work without having detailed information about the user.

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2 thoughts on “Virtual Assistants: Microsoft Cortana Chatbot”

  1. Just a few weeks ago my work place updated it’s Microsoft platform and I noticed Cortana pop up in my email inbox with info and updates for me – I thought ‘what on earth is this’ 🙂 Thank you because your post has helped me solve this mystery. Gosh – the ‘What Is Cortana Capable Of’ section in your post leaves nothing out!….is there any thing it can’t do…should we be concerned actually. Thanks for the very thorough and detailed write up on Cortana VA…….I can get back to work now – 🙂

    Reply
    • Ola,

      There’s really nothing to worry about with Virtual Assistants like Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa. They do collect a lot of information about you, but that information is being collected by these companies through other means anyway. As for what Cortana can’t do, it’s tough to say because they are only limited by what developers can imagine.

      Thanks for commenting,
      Sean

      Reply

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