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Microsoft's digital assistant: This time it's personal

21 Jul 15

In the build up to the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft has been building the company’s first digital personal assistant.

Known as Cortana, it's designed to help Windows 10 users when on their PC, tablet, or phone.

Marcus Ash, group program manager for Cortana, has announced over the coming months Cortana will be rolled out to customers in the Windows Insider Program in Japan and Australia. Microsoft NZ says it doesn't know when the service will be made available in New Zealand.

“Designing an intelligent personal assistant for new markets requires abandoning a ‘one size fits all’ approach and instead requires embracing thoughtful local customisation that takes into account what is important in each individual country and culture,” says Ash.

Ash says Cortana is evolving for each market, prompted by the team asking the question, “What’s important in a personal assistant in this market?”

Based on research results, Ash says the Cortana team assembles a local of creative writers, editors, programmers and voice talent to build a relevant, tailored experience.

Voice talent is carefully considered for each market and is customised to reflect the local language, idioms and speech patterns of each country, he says.

Cortana’s local personality is based on insights about each culture and the core foundations of positivity, confidence, intelligence and transparency.

According to the Cortana team’s research, aspects of personality such as humour, politeness and approach to national identity differ between markets.

In the Chinese market, the feedback requested a personal assistant whose voice sounded like she was smiling. Whereas in the UK, customers want a voice that sounds ‘easy-going, with slightly self-deprecating modesty’.

According to Ash, Cortana understands how the UK values self-deprecating humour. Therefore, dryness and irony are traits that filter into the UK version of the personal assistant, and this version uses playful sarcasm when it senses a user is fooling around, Ash says.

Cortana’s local personality is especially apparent in common questions customers ask, such as “Do you dream?”, “Tell me a joke” and “Tell me a story”.

However, Ash says the most important focus for the Cortana team is to build a digital assistant that helps each individual to complete tasks.

“We do extensive research in each market on speech recognition training and understanding local language models so Cortana can understand speech input.

“We also ensure functionality fits the local market’s needs. For example, in China we understand how important air quality is to local residents, so part of Cortana’s job is to track data on air quality and actively provide that information to customers in China,” he says.

“We are thrilled to share this latest expansion with you and invite you to experience how Cortana embraces the mission to be a truly personal digital assistant in different parts of the world.

“Our goal with Cortana is to deliver a culturally relevant, approachable and helpful assistant as part of a great experience on Windows 10 devices,” he says.

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