Fans of Cortana have been concerned in recent months by Microsoft. The company has seemed to pay less attention to its virtual assistant, while Amazon's Alexa began to enter the PC market. However, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says he still believes in Cortana. More importantly, he adds he will continue to support the assistant.
Amazon is the elephant in the room. The company's Alexa has enjoyed growth as Amazon saw the potential of a dedicated device. Echo smart speakers started a trend and Alexa is now coming to PC. Microsoft and Amazon also announced a Cortana/Alexa crossover collaboration.
Nadella says the reason he works with Amazon is because he believe Cortana can hold its own:
“That's why we're working with Alexa, and we would welcome it on our devices because we believe in a world where our own assistant should be available everywhere and so should other assistants be available on our devices,” he noted.
This was a major part of the Alexa/Cortana partnership. Both Amazon and Microsoft believe AI virtual assistant development should be more open. Indeed, Nadella even invited Apple and Google to join the party.
The CEO thinks Cortana has strength in its ability to work well in business and personal environments. Users can work with the assistant in Office, but equally use her when playing games on Xbox One.
One thing the collaboration with Amazon highlighted, was that Nadella believes we are in the early stages of development. He wants a future where Cortana will engage in real conversations with users, leveraging deep learning AI to do so.
While Nadella believes its early days for voice assistants, a former Microsoft exec believes it is too late for the company to compete. Last year, Qi Lu, a key developer behind Cortana, claimed Amazon had already won the war.
“I worked on Cortana four and a half years ago. At the time we all were like, ‘Amazon, yeah, that technology is so far behind,'” says Lu. “Google and Microsoft, technologically, were ahead of Amazon by a wide margin. But look at the AI race today. The Amazon Alexa ecosystem is far ahead of anybody else in the United States. It's because they got the scenario right. They got the device right. Essentially, Alexa is an AI-first device.”
Lu was specifically talking about the rich bot ecosystem Amazon had built around Alexa. He says the assistant is more functional and intelligent than rivals.
Amazon's Echo speaker range has functionality far beyond Google's Home speaker. Qi Lu is among the best placed to offer opinion on Microsoft problem. As well as developing Cortana, he also worked on the bot platform for the company. Among his other positions in Redmond included heading the Bing and Office divisions.
“The phone, in my view, is going to be, for the foreseeable future, a finger-first, mobile-first device,” explained Lu. “You need an AI-first device to solidify an emerging base of ecosystems.”