Microsoft’s Cortana heading to Android and Apple devices

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Microsoft is working on an advanced version of its digital assistant, Cortana, using research from an artificial intelligence project called “Einstein.”

Microsoft has been running its competitor to Apple’s Siri on Windows phones for a year, and will put the new version on the desktop with the arrival of Windows 10 this autumn. Later, Cortana will be available as a standalone app, usable on phones and tablets powered by iOS and Android, people familiar with the project said.

“This kind of technology, which can read and understand email, will play a central role in the next roll out of Cortana, which we are working on now for the fall time frame,” said Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research and a part of the Einstein project, in an interview at the company’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters. Horvitz and Microsoftdeclined comment on any plan to take Cortana beyond Windows.

The plan to put Cortana on machines running software from rivals such as Apple and Google represents a new front in CEO Satya Nadella’s battle to sell Microsoft software on any device or platform, rather than trying to force customers to use Windows. Success on rivals’ platforms could create new markets and greater relevance for the company best known for its decades-old operating system.

Microsoft believes its work on speech recognition, search and machine learning will let it transform its digital assistant into the first intelligent ‘agent’ which anticipates users needs. By comparison, Siri is advertised mostly as responding to requests. Google’s mobile app, which doesn’t have a name like Siri or Cortana, already offers some limited predictive information ‘cards’ based on what it thinks the user wants to know.

The key to Cortana’s success will be knowing where a user is, what time it is, and what they are trying to do. Albert Einstein’s work on the relationship between space and time gave rise to Microsoft’s secret project name, said Horvitz.

“Einstein was brilliant about space and time,” he said. “It’s using brilliance about space and time generally in our agents.”

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