02 Dec 2015

Meet Cortana. Microsoft's answer to Siri

Microsoft has released an Australianised version of its Cortana personal assistant for Windows 10.

Cortana acts as a search interface, allowing you to find all manner of things on your computer, as well as find the answers for many of life’s questions. You can talk or you use text input.

“Users in Australia will benefit from a Cortana that celebrates the nation’s rich culture, history and people, such as indigenous legends, rugged bushrangers and sports stars,” MSN reported.

“Friendly, funny, attentive and relatable, Cortana can sing you an Australian lullaby, identify iconic landmarks, and even has a local accent inspired by the likes of Hollywood actresses Margot Robbie and Melissa George.”

Microsoft said it used conversations with Australians and a study of the local culture to tweak Cortana for Australia.

If you’ve ever wondered what these preparations look like, there’s an interesting piece by The Australian Financial Review here on how Microsoft determined what different local versions of Cortana should look – and sound – like.

The system is designed to be more accurate the more it is used, but if early reaction is anything to go by, then a bit more time might be required before Cortana can convincingly pass itself off as a local.

Gizmodo asked Cortana a number of questions to test the Australian flavour of responses.

The software performed reasonably well – throwing in a few Australian-isms like slip-slop-slap, but it bombed out on a question about ice creams, recommending a US product first.

Cortana’s comedy repertoire earned it the wrath of at least one heckler at The Australian, who compared it to a database of “Christmas bonbon jokes from the past 10 years”.

Where Cortana does excel, according to the review, is in some of its personal assistant functions.

You can ask Cortana for reminders to do things, and there is also a “notebook” function where you write things down for Cortana to learn and improve its accuracy – two positive features The Australian highlighted.

There are alternatives to Cortana for other operating systems.

There’s Apple’s Siri, for which an enthusiast community has asked it almost every question under the sun. And there’s also Google Now – which works on Windows phone, and other platforms.

There are other voice-controlled personal assistants like Amazon’s Echo and Sharp’s forthcoming Robohon, with all signs pointing to these types of systems playing a growing role in our future lives.