Microsoft Research: Cortana is the start of personal assistants that naturally anticipate your needs

Most of us can only dream of having the perfect personal assistant, one who is always there when needed, anticipating every request and unobtrusively organizing our lives. Cortana, the new digital personal assistant that comes with Windows Phone 8.1, brings users closer to that dream.

For Larry Heck, a distinguished engineer in Microsoft Research, Cortana will continue to evolve in an even more natural way. Already, Cortana goes beyond performing voice-activated commands. It continually learns about its user and becomes more personalized, with the goal of proactively carrying out the right tasks at the right time. If its user asks about outside temperatures every afternoon before leaving the office, Cortana will learn to offer that information without being asked.

“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,” Heck says. “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.”

Cortana’s design philosophy is entrenched in state-of-the-art machine-learning and data-mining algorithms. Both developers and researchers are able to use Microsoft’s broad assets across commercial and enterprise products, including strong ties to Bing Web search and Microsoft speech algorithms and data.

If Heck has set the bar high for Cortana’s future, it’s because of the deep, varied expertise within Microsoft Research. Thursday, the Microsoft Research Silicon Valley lab hosts the Silicon Valley TechFair, an open-door event for customers, academia, and partners to learn more about the inner workings of Microsoft Research.

Check out this feature story to find out more about the research behind Cortana.

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Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff