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Existing Windows Phone users will see the Windows Phone 8.1 update start rolling out in the next few months

Microsoft's long talked-about digital assistant "Cortana" became a bit more real today as the feature's abilities were demonstrated onstage at the Build conference.

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore -- head of Windows Phone product and design -- took the stage at Build 2014 today to show off Cortana, which is Microsoft's version of Apple's Siri and Google's Google Now. 

Cortana is based on a character in Microsoft's "Halo" series, and some even speculate that Jen Taylor -- who voices Cortana in the game -- is the voice behind the Windows Phone assistant as well. But Microsoft hasn't confirmed this yet. 

Cortana is being launched in beta for Windows Phone 8.1, and will roll out over the next few months in the U.S. Later, Cortana will make her way to the UK and other countries. 

Belfiore demonstrated Cortana onstage at Build 2014, showing that she can easily answer dynamic questions about sports or the weather.  

He also specifically asked her, "What's the story of the next Halo game?" To which Cortana replied, "I'm quite certain you don't have proper security clearance for that information."


[SOURCE: Twitter]

Cortana also goes beyond just Bing search-backed, factual answers to also setting reminders and making herself present in both Windows Phone native apps and third-party apps. 

For instance, Cortana was able to add a video to a Hulu Plus queue, start a Skype call, and launch a specific friend's Facebook page -- all by voice commands. 

"We think Cortana is the most personal digital assistant," said Belfiore.

The only time Cortana seemed to get it wrong was when she was asked follow-up questions, such as when Belfiore asked her to convert a temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius. That worked out fine, but when he asked, "What about Kelvin?" she went back to Celsius. 

Existing Windows Phone users will see the Windows Phone 8.1 update start rolling out in the next few months. Brand-new phones will see it as soon as late April or early May.

Back in September 2013, Microsoft talked about Cortana being much more than just a personal assistant. It wants to make the assistant technology a key part of the entire "shell" of core services and experience on Windows Phones, Xbox One and Windows OS. 

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called it "a family of devices powered by a service-enabled shell." That's where Cortana comes in. Cortana will have the ability to learn and adapt; and will use Microsoft Bing, Tellme speech technology, natural language software and social graph software to tap into every services and experience area of the device. 

Source: USA Today





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