updated 10:29 am EDT, Thu September 12, 2013
Learning assistant for Windows Phone takes name from Halo character
Microsoft may be working on its own virtual assistant, in the same vein as Apple's Siri and Google Now. App listings that appeared in leaked screenshots for the next Windows Phone operating system release showed one item marked as "zCortana," something that is said to be a voice-controlled assistant that can automatically learn from its user.
Sources of ZDNet say that it will rely on machine-learning technology and Bing's Satori knowledge bank in order to operate, with Cortana able to understand and act upon naturally-spoken voice commands. Earlier comments by outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also hints at Cortana, mentioning a "service-enabled shell" that would be personalized to the user, and would be "based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world."
Screenshots picked up from The Verge shows a relatively spartan interface for Cortana, with sections for notifications, rules for alerts and synchronization, and the option to deactivate Cortana. The lack of settings compared to Siri and Google Now is likely more a consequence of it still being developed, with more options expected when it launches.
Despite its appearance in the build and more app screenshots, it is unlikely to make an appearance on any device until sometime between 2014 and 2016, but could ship as part of Windows Phone 8.1.
The name Cortana is an apt choice for Microsoft's assistant, as it is the same as the AI character in the popular Xbox game franchise Halo.