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Examiner
  • How Microsoft Created A Virtual Assistant That Could Blow Siri Away (MSFT)

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  • Business Insider

    Windows Phone is still a distant third to Apple and Android in the smartphone market, but Microsoft is hoping to change that with the introduction of Windows Phone 8.1— and more importantly its personal digital assistant Cortana.

    Microsoft claims that Cortana isn't like your average virtual assistant. She's supposed to be a little wittier, more personable, and capable of learning more about you than Siri or Google Now.

    After using Cortana for a week and speaking with Microsoft's Marcus Ash, Partner Group program manager, it's clear that the company's got a lot riding on the success of its new virtual assistant.

    But there's still several obstacles in Microsoft's way. Besides the competition from Apple and Google, virtual assistants still haven't really become a mainstream part of a smartphone user's everyday routine. 

    We sat down with Ash to talk about how Microsoft created Cortana, its plans for the future and its strategy in facing the competition.

    Business Insider: Microsoft interviewed real-life personal assistants when creating Cortana. What was the strategy behind that?

    Marcus Ash: If you want to make a real humanistic connection with that technology, the best thing you can do is find a set of humans that do the job we think this phone should be able to do. We [asked] them, 'What do you do to really make the person that you work for happy? What types of [tasks] do they ask you to do?’

    The other area we were focusing on was how much personality we should attribute to this assistant. These machine learning systems need a lot of data. So if you don’t ask the right questions, then you’re not going to get the right data, and then the system can’t train itself. So it never really gets better.

    You need a pleasant sounding voice. You need to make sure that voice sounds as human as you can possibly make it.

    You need to make sure that voice sounds as human as you can possibly make it.
    If you don’t have a personality, it’s really hard for people to trust you.
    For us is a notion of personality. When we look at Google, they’ve made some pretty clear decisions. It’s about getting you quickly and efficiently to Google’s services. It’s not about personality. There’s just something really delightful that makes people smile about having an anthropomorphic personality inside this assistant. We studied this a lot and looked at people’s reaction in labs; it just makes people smile. It also opens up this type of trust relationship we talk a lot about.

    Google has got a decision to make around how they’re going to create a personality

    Google has got a decision to make around how they’re going to create a personality
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