Microsoft is also developing a Skills Kit for Cortana that will allow developers to take bots created with the Microsoft Bot Framework and publish them to Cortana as a new skill. In addition, developers will be able to repurpose code from existing Alexa skills to create Cortana skills, and they will be able to integrate their web services as skills.
Taking another page from the Amazon playbook, Microsoft has also announced a Cortana Devices software development kit (SDK), which will allow OEMs and ODMs to put Cortana into all kinds of products from cars to televisions to mobile devices, and even an Echo-like connected speaker, which audio equipment manufacturer Harman Kardon plans to release later this year.
Cortana will also work on the IoT Core edition of Windows 10, offering the possibility of IoT devices that can be controlled using Cortana as the user interface.
Google is slightly behind the curve when it comes to intelligent assistants. Google Assistant appeared on the scene only within the last few months — in the Google Home device that was launched in November 2016, the Pixel smartphone launched in October 2016 and the Allo messaging app launched in September 2016. And it was only in December 2016 that Google launched its Actions on Google program, allowing developers to use Google Assistant to work as a user interface for Google Home skills. It's also promised an Embedded Google Assistant SDK that will allow other hardware makers to embed Assistant in their products.
Beyond the big four
There are other companies also developing general intelligent assistants that may be made available to product makers of all sorts. For example, audio recognition and cognition company SoundHound has launched a platform called Houndify that includes large-scale speech recognition and natural language understanding, connections to various data providers to access different types of information, and the capability to add custom phrases and queries.
Once a product is integrated with Houndify the company promises that it will instantly understand a wide variety of questions and commands in the same way that Alexa or Cortana can. The difference is that rather than making a feature of having Alexa or Cortana in their product, manufacturers will be able to use Houndify as an ‘own brand’ intelligent assistant. As well as Android and iOS SDKs the company has also made SDKs available for C++, Web, Python, Java, and C#.
How widespread will the use of intelligent assistants as a user interface to applications become? It seems unlikely they will replace the keyboard and mouse for desktop applications in the foreseeable future. But for applications you need to acces while driving or walking, or applications running on mobile devices or devices with no screens — such as many IoT devices — an intelligent assistant seems to make perfect sense.
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