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Feeling Overwhelmed With Organizational Tasks? Microsoft Says Cortana Can Help

Cortana provides answers to your questions in a box on the lefthand side of the screen in the Windows 10 operating system

Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 10, includes a feature they hope people will find particularly useful – a virtual kind of butler ready to help you manage your life.

The digital personal assistant is named Cortana and has already been available on Windows Phones. She takes her name from the artificial intelligence character in the video game Halo.

But Microsoft executives are quick to say, the Windows version of Cortana is a different character. She’s more concerned with making sure you get to appointments on time than hacking alien computer systems.

Marcus Ash is group program manager on the PC, phone and tablet team for Cortana. He gave a recent demonstration.

“Hey, Cortana, where is my next meeting?” Ash asked his laptop.

A second later, a female computerized voice spoke back.

“Coming up next, you have Windows 10 review launch plans at Studio E.”

Different Cultures, Different Cortanas

Microsoft has even created different versions for different countries. In China, people said they wanted her to sound like she was smiling. In Spain, people wanted a little bit of sass.

When you tell the Spanish version of Cortana that she’s boring, she replies, "I’ve heard there is nothing worse than a boring person. Good thing I’m not a person."

But this is supposed to be more than just an amusement. Ash says Microsoft wants to help us offload menial tasks and get more done.

With access to your calendar, Cortana could send you an alert saying, "Hey, it’s time to the hit the road to the airport, traffic’s really bad."

But all of this could strike some people as a little Big Brother-ish. Ash says that’s why Microsoft is leaving it up to each user to decide what information Cortana can access.

“One thing we’re very clear about is it’s all up to the customer,” he said. “We really want to respect privacy. We want customers to feel like they’re in control, so Cortana will ask and confirm first.”  

And in a sign of the times, Microsoft acknowledges that a lot of people don’t have Windows phones, so they’re creating Cortana apps for iOS and Android devices.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
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