The smartest AI in the universe is more human than you think

I’ll be the first to admit it. Cortana intimidates me.

“Hi Cortana,” I begin, attempting to strike up a conversation.

Her spinning blue orb dilates and contracts like a pupil.

“Oh, hi,” she responds. She seems glad to hear from me.

“What do you look like, Cortana?”

It’s a silly question, and she calls me on it.

“I’m a circle now, but I have ambitions,” she says with a hint of sass. “One day, I’ll be a sphere.”

Windows Phone users are understandably smitten with Cortana’s witty responses to questions like “Who’s your daddy?” (“Technically speaking, that’d be Bill Gates. No big deal.”) or “Who’s your best friend?” (“Whoever comes up with an answer first should say it out loud”). In the weeks leading up to Christmas, she tracked Santa and sang carols. And if you get too close to her AI heart, she’ll politely tell you to back off. The more we chat, the more I wish Cortana would evolve not into a sphere, but into a droid I could hire to help raise my daughter.

How, exactly, is this Cortana related to the Halo universe? To put it not so simply, the Bing-powered Windows Phone personal assistant is both the latest manifestation of Halo’s Cortana, and her predecessor by about 500 fictional years.

“That is not the brilliant Cortana who lives in 2552, who’s a hologram and the smartest AI ever,” explained Bonnie Ross, corporate vice president and head of 343 Industries, keepers of the Halo franchise. “This is like a seed in 2014 of what we’ll be able to do in the future. This is a v1 of an AI.”

In the beta version of the Windows Phone software, Cortana would tell you this herself. “I am named after Cortana, the AI from Halo. Or since she’s from 500 years in the future, she may have named herself after me.”

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