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How Microsoft's Cortana Uses the Cloud

Apple Siri and Google Now have already made waves throughout the IT sector for the ingenuity, effectiveness and technical prowess. While these products have been on the market for quite some time, their presence wasn't enough to scare Microsoft away from introducing their own device, the Cortana digital personal assistant, which comes complete with cloud-enabled technology. Currently limited to the Windows Phone, Cortana is expected to make its mark on other Windows-based devices and platforms in the near future.

During the initial unveil, members of the Cortana's development team stressed their "cloud first, mobile first" attitude, which was a driving force behind the functionality seen within Microsoft Cortana. The technology's Notebook feature, for example, resides on the user's phone as a means of storing individual preferences, contact information and important locations. Certain information can also be omitted, per the request of individual users.

When talking about the in-depth development process of Microsoft Cortana, Marcus Ash, Microsoft's partner group program manager, explained the lengths they took to create an accurate, efficient and helpful device.

"We interviewed these people that had these high-stress jobs, meaning they were assisting people who were celebrities where it really matters that you’re getting things right. I think it was somewhere between five and seven assistants that we interviewed over the course of one week. And we had them keep a journal, and we looked through those journals and we looked back and did exit interviews." Ash went on to say, "It’s all about trust. This person tells me very private information. And this person expects me to keep this private information between us. They didn’t go into details, but you can imagine the kinds of things that an assistant that follows that type of person around might see or hear. If the person doesn’t trust me, then I can’t do my job effectively because I’ll be limited in the information that I get from that person."

Aside from the Notebook application, most of the actual programming of Cortana was done strictly to facilitate cloud-based functionality for the user. Bing's speech recognition capability, which is included with Microsoft Cortana, utilizes Bing's own natural language engine to convert the user's voice into computable data, transfer it to Microsoft's cloud servers and provide a live stream of data back to the user.

Cortana also relies on another cloud-based structure, Bing's own "entities database," which is a virtualized knowledge base of entity definitions and web content that makes it easy to find information that is not contained within the Notebook app itself. This allows users to receive answers to a wide variety of questions, while full third-party support lets developers add their own information and functionality. The development of Apple's Siri, on the other hand, was limited to only a few apps and services.

At the time of this writing, the development team at Microsoft has already shown Cortana working with Facebook, Skype and Hulu Plus. Given the fact that the technology was only recently introduced, as well as the ability for third-party developers to add their own functionality to Cortana, there is no telling what the future may hold for the technology.


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