Microsoft Voice Assistance
Microsoft's plan in the voice assistance space to compete with products such as Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, is the development of its Virtual Assistant Solution Accelerator. Cortana was repositioned, thus, it no longer competes in this space, and it has been integrated with Alexa.
CORTANA: AN OVERVIEW
- Since Cortana's realease in 2015, the technology has evolved to support Android and iOS devices, Xbox, the Edge browser, Windows Mixed Reality headsets and third-party devices like thermostats and smart speakers.
- Cortana can do common tasks like searches and booking meetings or to-do reminders with contextual information about the user’s calendar, but also offers built-in benefits for the users most committed to Mirosoft platforms.
- Microsoft products such as Office 365, Outlook.com, LinkedIn, Bing, speech recognition technology and the Microsoft Graph, give Cortana an unique position of developing capabilities and help the technology improve as it learns more about user needs.
- The biggest benefit of Cortana is its integration with the common tools of workers: Windows and Office.
- Cortana Devices SDK and the Cortana Skills program (developers and third-party vendors including Spotify, Fitbit, Expedia, Dark Sky, OpenTable and others) give the assistant a continuous development of its skills, but Alexa boasts the largest catalog among voice assistants today.
CORTANA VS OTHER DIGITAL ASSISTANS
- Microsoft does not want to compete with other digital voice assistans like Alexa or Google Assistant. In fact, the plan is to plug Cortana into other assistants already in use. Amazon already agreed to plug Cortana into Alexa, but there is no Google Assistant support available yet.
- “Cortana needs to be that skill for anybody who’s a Microsoft 365 subscriber. You should be able to use it on Google Assistant, you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like how you use our apps on Android and iOS so that’s at least how we want to think about where it’ll go,” CEO Microsoft Nadella said. Nadella compared digital assistants to web browsers: they need to be interoperable and access similar information.
INTEGRATION WITH ALEXA
- The integration is rather basic right now. It requires users to summon each digital assistant through comands like "Alexa, open Cortana", or "Cortana, open Alexa".
- Both are integrated as a skill in each platform. Customers can access Windows or Office specific features of the digital assistant into an Echo Device and also can access Alexa into Windows 10. “The goal is to have two integrated digital assistants who can carry out tasks across different dimensions of daily life,” explains Microsoft’s Jennifer Langston.
- Last year, Microsoft moved Cortana out of its AI research division and into its Experiences and Devices team.
- Microsoft debranded Cortana from Windows Search and moved it into the Action Center and System Tray instead.
- There are plans to integrate Cortana with Google Assistant, as they did with Amazon's Alexa.
- The goal is to integrate Microsoft products, like Outlook, with personal assistants.
- Overall, Microsoft wants Cortana to become an essential skill on mobile devices and smart speakers, and an interface to control Microsoft services using non-Microsoft digital assistants.
- Cortana doesn't require users to be Microsoft 365 subscribers, but maybe this could be a future goal as we can see how it's integrated with Outlook, To-Do, and other of its productivity-focused properties.
- There is also a change in strategy for Cortana: Microsoft plans to split Search and Cortana in the upcoming version of Windows 10 Version 1903.
- Microsoft is building a chat-based UI for Cortana. It puts a text-conversation interaction model front and center rather than voice. Microsoft know that people don't like speaking to their PCs, prompting users to type is more likely to garner use.
- Cortana's new chat-based UI will also go live in the Action Center and into a new dedicated Control Center.
THE VIRTUAL ASSISTANT SOLUTION ACCELERATOR
- The company has been developing its Virtual Assistant Solution Accelerator. It consists in templates and tools that allow customers to build their own customized virtual assistants.
- They try to cover the customers' need to deliver a conversational assistant tailored to their brand as the Virtual Assistant is an open-source solution that provides a set of core foundational capabilities and full control over the end user experience.
- Customers will be allowed to build conversational experiences and create a new bot project including basic conversational intents, Dispatch integration, QnA Maker, Application Insights and an automated deployment. It was introduced in preview form in November 2018.
- The difference with other assistants is that customers can change the name, voice and personality of them and use a starter set of conversational skills.
- Productivity skills that the Virtual Assistant has includes Email, Calendar, and To-Do, integrated with the Microsoft Graph programming interface, which means they connect to Office 365 and Outlook.com.
FUTURE PLANS AND PARTNERSHIPS
- LG will be using various Microsoft Azure and AI products (one of them will be the Virtual Assistant Solution Accelerator) in conjunction with LG's self-driving software.
- Also, Universal Electronics Inc. said it is going to use Microsoft's Virtual Assistant Accelerator to power its home-hub platform, Nevo Butler. (source 5)
- BMW launched a personal assistant for its cars and such an assistant gets smarter with the help of Microsoft’s virtual assistant at CES 2018, with the goal of pairing the productive nature of Microsoft’s platform with the vehicle.
- Microsoft is also working on a number of AI Accelerators, a solution and analytics templates that give users a way to build on top of some repeatable patterns and practices around AI.
- The company has plans to get developers to write new apps and services using the Azure Bot Service and its API's.
- AI capabilities available in containers (preview form): key phrase extraction, language detection, sentiment analysis, face and emoticon detection and OCR/text recognition. More containerized services are planned, including speech and language understanding.