Microsoft’s Cortana: Is Siri about to meet her match?

Following in the footsteps of the voice activated assistant technology pioneered by Apple’s iPhone, Microsoft is reportedly set to debut its own assistant technology later this year.

As first reported by the Microsoft watchers over at MSFTnerd, the company will debut Cortana for Windows phones sometime in April, before expanding the technology across other Microsoft platforms.

If the name Cortana sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve played one of the blockbuster Halo games on the various Xbox consoles. Fans of the game series, the first big hit on Microsoft’s original Xbox back in 2001, will recognize Cortana as the artificial intelligence program that functions as the sidekick (and occasional MacGuffin) for the game’s protagonist.

Cortana the mobile assistant will even be voiced by the same voice actress from the games, Jen Taylor. The program’s debut will be somewhat limited at first with a beta launch on Windows phones in April. But by the end of the year, Apple Insider reports there will be a version for iOS. By 2015, Cortana is expected to make the jump to Xbox and PC platforms.

Windows users looking for a sneak peak of the video game character brought to life can already do so on Microsoft’s Bing Translator app for Windows. Apple Insider says the company has already started to “roll out Cortana-derived improvements to the app’s speech recognition system.”

Cortana has been in the works for quite sometime (even if you don’t count the fact that she’s technically been appearing in video games for more than a decade). The voice assistant was unveiled last year by outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who promised an entirely new experience, according to ZDNet.

“Our [user interface] will be deeply personalized, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world,” Ballmer wrote at the time.

Though Cortana has been in the works for a while and Siri has been with us for more than two years, this latest news comes at a time when people are questioning their relationship with machines thanks to the Oscar nominated Spike Jonze film Her. The movie depicts a romantic relationship between a man and his Siri-like operating system.

Recently, the Daily Dot’s Nico Lang argued that the film depicts a state of technologically-enabled alienation that – though ostensibly set in the future – is closer than we think.

“The most unsettling thing about Her is the way its vision of a futuristic society reflects the Way We Live Now, as we struggle to find connection in a world controlled by surfaces,” Lang wrote.

If this is giving you pause for existential crisis however, be warned: Siri isn’t going to be much help.

Photo by GasPanic/Flickr

 

Tim Sampson

Tim Sampson

Tim Sampson is a reporter who focused on the technology, business, and politics beats. He's also an established comedy writer, with work on Comedy Central and in The Onion and ClickHole.