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Why Cortana's new boss is obsessed with artificial intelligence

Mark Hachman | Oct. 11, 2016
"We are infusing AI technology into all Microsoft products," AI chief Harry Shum says, and he has plans for Cortana, too.

And these two products: If you look at Bing and you look at Cortana. I personally worked on Bing for almost seven years. People certainly deserve to have different opinions, but I would say that Bing is a credible search engine and that we offer people a credible alternative. We have about a third of the search traffic in the United States.,

Cortana is something that we really really get very excited about. And you’re right, a product like Cortana symbolizes artificial intelligence. Today we actually have about 133 million Cortana users, and we actually have answered more than 10 billion questions. People start to use Cortana more and more. And with this joining forces with MSR and with more MSR AI researchers I suddenly have very high expectations in terms of the quality of Cortana, user experience of Cortana. All will continue to improve.

I think the number of people actively using Cortana is less than half of the devices running Windows 10. Are you satisfied with that?

There’s always room for improvement, if you work on these kind of products. And you are right, there are really two things that are most important when we design and ship this kind of product: the number of users, and the amount of user engagement. It’s a very interesting design decision: What is the product? What is this thing doing with, for the users? One of the things we certainly track is the number of conversations, with these agents, in every single session. We actually feel pretty good that Cortana compares well with other competitive products in the market.

I don’t know if you know we have another very exciting product called the XiaoIce chatbot. We shipped in China, and we shipped a Japanese version, also equally popular in Japan, and we’re still thinking about what to do for the U.S. market.

When you design a different kind of agent like a chatbot, the amount of user interaction is significantly higher and different. So it really depends on the product design.

Cortana right now is an assistant: She appears, and then disappears. Google is trying a chatbot approach with Assistant. Do you think we’ll see a Cortana chatbot in the near future?

Cortana is designed to help people to complete a task, whether it be a reminder that she should buy something for their mom’s birthday or that it is time to  leave for home because the traffic is jammed. Or some of those knowledge kind of questions. This is the kind of design decision that we have to make today.

We will learn from the other chatbots we have already shipped and some we’re still developing. We have to see what kind of user scenarios are more important for the users. I don’t think that there will be only one intelligent agent in the world anytime soon. I think we will learn along the way.


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