Google has Google Now and Apple has Siri. Now Microsoft has Cortana.
If you haven’t played Halo the name Cortana wouldn’t ring a bell. Halo is a first person shooter game exclusive to the Xbox gaming platform. A lot, most?, of these fans are guys who like science fiction, anime, and virtual hot babes, and she is definitely a hot babe. To Halo fans Cortana is a big deal.
Who or what is Cortana? Here’s what I found on Wikipedia:
During gameplay, Cortana provides backstory and tactical information to the player, who assumes the role of Master Chief Petty Officer John-117. In the story, she is instrumental in preventing the activation of the Halo installations, which would have destroyed all sentient life in the galaxy.
Cortana’s original design was based on the Egyptian queen Nefertiti; the character’s holographic representation always takes the form of a woman.
What Microsoft is doing with Cortana is cool. Cortana is a smart, sexy AI who assists you in the virtual world of Halo, but now she is a smart, sexy AI who assists you in the real world.
Cortana reminds me of Samantha in Her. In the movie, Theodore Twombly played by Joaquin Phoenix upgrades his computer and smartphone operating systems to an artificially intelligent OS. The AI’s voice Samantha is played by Scarlett Johansson. There’s nothing artificial about Samantha’s AI and eventually Theodore falls in love her.
Microsoft has also worked closely with Halo developer 343 Industries on the eyelike visual elements and voice actress Jen Taylor for the sound of Cortana. Taylor is the voice behind Princess Peach, Toad, and Toadette in various Mario games, but sheâ€™s best known for her role as Cortana in the Halo series. For Halo fans â€” and there are a lot of them â€” having Jen Taylor as the voice of Cortana in Windows Phone is a big deal, and for Microsoft itâ€™s equally significant. â€œShe’s gonna play a pretty big part in how we roll this out and how we evolve this speech technology,â€ explains Ash. Initially, Taylor will be used primarily for what Microsoft calls â€œchit chatâ€ responses, queries where the company can use original audio. If you ask â€œâ€˜Whatâ€™s up with Master Chief,â€™â€ or anything related to the Covenant, then youâ€™ll get a Taylor response. Other interactions, meanwhile, use a synthesized voice thatâ€™s similar to Taylorâ€™s. (If you want some more Halo-related fun with Cortana, you can just set your nickname as â€œMaster Chiefâ€ in the settings.)
Microsoft’s Cortana, more than Apple’s Siri or Google’s impersonal Google Now, is a step in the right direction. Even though Cortana is a virtual AI you can put a face to her voice, and that makes Cortana more personal than the other two. I can see some Windows 8.1 users getting attached to Cortana, and that might be what Microsoft is going after.
Microsoft needs something different from Apple and Google. I think Cortana might be it.