Smartphone assistant gets human touch


The personal assistant’s “black book” is an invaluable compendium of their employer’s likes, dislikes and, perhaps most importantly, spouse’s birthday. Now it has fallen into the hands of a technological rival.

Before the launch of Windows 10 yesterday, Microsoft researchers followed human personal assistants to learn how they helped their employers. The researchers used their findings, and the notion of the black book, to improve Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant, which is designed to smooth the working day by automating certain tasks.

The real personal assistant’s black book might contain information about their employer’s favourite foods, sports teams and music, allowing the assistant to select appropriate entertainment for an evening, for example. By gathering the same information about a user, Microsoft hopes that Cortana, which is embedded in Windows 10, will be able to do the same.

Microsoft’s research inspired a range of features aimed at anticipating a user’s needs, according to Robert Epstein, senior product manager for Windows. This might involve monitoring traffic conditions between meetings and recommending an earlier departure if there is a jam. “You see the best real-world assistants doing that,” he said.

Windows 10 was made available yesterday as a free download for owners of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1.

Angry Birds 2, the sequel to the hit mobile game, will be released today. The first version of Angry Birds, released in 2009, has been downloaded more than 2.5 billion times.

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