Microsoft Shows Us Cortana, Mobile Voice Assistant Powered By Bing

Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant, fully replaces the search function on Windows phones. The company revealed the long-awaited technology for Windows Phone 8.1 at the Build conference Wednesday in San Francisco. Bing powers the technology through its Satori knowledge engine.

Microsoft's digital voice assistant responds to natural language processing and integrates third-party apps. "We're training the service on the back end with lots of voice utterances to improve speech recognition," said Joe Belfiore, Microsoft VP and manager for the Windows Phone Program at Microsoft. The technology's U.S. launch will eventually expand into other countries.  

Third-party apps from Facebook, Hulu and Yelp integrate into Cortana's stumbled functions. Data pulled in through Bing helps Cortana identify four-star restaurants and make reservations, for example. The personal assistant will also use natural language processing in the cloud to support Skype.

Belfiore said Cortana can handle communications and calendar, make phone calls and send texts or schedule appointments, take a note, and give reminders. She also can conduct searches, identify music playing, and known the places the phone owner frequents. It does this by asking the user to opt-in to specific interests and settings that allows the technology to access content to make sense of context in email and text messages, searches and other communications.

Microsoft spent time with human personal assistants to learn the most important features the company should integrate, per Belfiore. The recognition technology needs a bit of work. The assistant faltered when Belfiore attempted to get Cortana to convert temperatures. The conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius worked well, but Cortana from Celsius to Kelvin.

Users still have an option to type queries to Cortana, including complex requests, during those situations where talking isn't an option. 

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