Microsoft Reveals Siri's New Rival Named 'Cortana' For Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled Cortana, an intelligent digital assistant that uses a natural language interface to perform tasks in the new Windows Phone 8.1 OS.

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Microsoft Has Introduced Its Long-Awaited Answer To Siri And Google Now And It Is Indeed Called Cortana. It's Named After The Artificial Intelligence Character Halo.

The new Windows Phone 8.1 update comes with Microsoft's long-rumored personal assistant Cortana.

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Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, head of Windows Phone product and design, unveiled the personal assistant software for Windows Phone onstage at the company's annual Build conference in San Francisco.

Cortana is powered by Bing, and can perform many of the functions one has come to expect from artificial intelligence-style assistants, such as setting reminders and powering vocal updates to one's calendar.

Cortana Is Currently In Beta And Will Roll Out Only In The US On 8 April, The Date That Windows Phone 8.1 Will Be Released

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore shows off one of Cortana's distinctive features

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The feature will arrive first in the US, followed by the UK and China in the second half of this year and additional countries in 2015.

The Voice Behind The Software Is Of Jen Taylor, The Voice Actress Of The Character From The Halo series

Fans of the Halo video game franchise will recognize the voice of Windows Phone 8.1's new Cortana voice assistant: It's voice actress Jen Taylor, who voiced the character in the video game.

The beta version of Cortana that will launch in coming months actually uses more than one source, including synthesized voices. But over time, the feature's voice will become more and more centered on Taylor. For now, Taylor's voice is behind many of the "chit-chat" exchanges on the phone. In a demonstration Wednesday, Sullivan asked Cortana "who is your father?" Her response: "Technically speaking, that'd be Bill Gates. No big deal."

Cortana Is Powered By Bing, And Can Perform Many Of The Functions One Has Come To Expect From Artificial Intelligence-Style Assistants

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Cortana is powered by Microsoft's Bing search engine and essentially replaces the search function on a Windows Phone smartphone. You can use it to make phone calls, send texts, take a note or give you a reminder.

Cortana has a "notebook" where you can store your interests, places you frequent, calendar, relationships with friends, family and colleagues and your "quiet hours." So for instance, during your quiet hours you can let only certain calls come through.
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The more you use the search function the more Cortana learns about you, by asking you if you want her to store it. The new feature adds functionality to Windows Phones that Apple and Google's Android customers have come to know through Siri (Apple) and Google Now (Android).

It Also Supports Searches For Content Stored Locally On Your Device And Works With Third-Party Apps Like Skype, Hulu And Facebook

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Best of all, Cortana can be extended with third-party apps (Skype, Hulu, and Facebook were all shown off), which is naturally why Microsoft is revealing her at its developer conference.

The Skype service will come with deeper integration with the Windows Phone 8.1's latest virtual voice assistant, Cortana. Cortana can now be used to quickly start and end calls using voice commands. A simple voice command, for instance "Skype, get Lara Kingwell on video", will start the Skype app, search for the particular person, and make a call.

During The Demo, Cortana's Ability To Respond To Dynamic Questions About Weather, Sport Scores, And Search Engine Queries Like Food Calorie Counts Were Showed Off

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"What's the story of the next Halo game?" Belfiore asked in jest, clearly setting up an example of the oft-lampooned Siri exchanges that lead to Apple's software spitting out a comical pseudo-human response. Cortana responded, "I'm quite certain you don't have proper security clearance for that information."

The assistant appeared to take a stumble, however, when Belfiore attempted to get Cortana to convert temperatures. From Fahrenheit to Celsius worked smoothly, but from there to Kelvin -- worded as "what about Kelvin?" -- kept pushing Cortana back to Celsius, an interesting display of the assistant's limitations in understanding more colloquially-worded follow-up questions.

ALSO READ: Our previous story about Cortana which features everything that was leaked before today's release

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