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Microsoft has added its talking digital assistant ‘Cortana’ to Skype to provide ‘contextual assistance’, which could help Skype users in their online chats.
The idea is that the digital assistant can use its AI to pick up on what is being said in a Skype chat and then help to provide relevant information on that subject. This could be anything from (depending on the content of the chat) relevant restaurant option suggestions, movie reviews, and suggestions of smart replies and responses. According to Microsoft, Cortana will enable users to respond to messages in Skype without needing to type.
The addition of Cortana to Skype means that it will also be able to pick up on conversations about scheduling events, and will then be able to set up a reminder that can be sent to all of your devices. This will see Cortana acting like a kind of virtual secretary, able to ‘listen’ to and take note of all of your plans. This could have obvious benefits in making sure you don’t miss important appointments/events, and that you are able to improve business planning and organisation.
The Cortana / Skype bundle will also mean that the digital assistant can be added as a contact in Skype. This means that you will be able to chat with it as you would other contacts, and use it to answer questions, suggest restaurants, check flights, give the weather outlook, and other information.
Users will be able to easily set up Cortana in Skype on mobile devices by tapping Cortana on their chat screen, and by agreeing to allow Cortana to use the user’s location and IM conversations in Skype.
According to the Microsoft blog, Cortana in Skype will be ‘gradually’ rolled out, starting from 9th October, to Microsoft’s Android and iOS customers in the United States first.
This alliance of Cortana with Skype is another important competitive step in the battle for leadership in the voice-controlled / ‘Voice First’ market and will help Microsoft to achieve its aim of making Cortana available for its customers everywhere and across any device.
In September, Microsoft also announced that it was working in partnership with Amazon in a bid to put a lot of pressure on competitors, gain distribution and overlap, and to enable their respective AI digital assistants to work together in a move to create an open way to communicate and interconnect with AI platforms.
As consumers, figures show that over a one-third of us (in the US and the UK) use digital assistants weekly (the equivalent to Netflix’s adoption level). This is a trend that is set to continue. For example, Ovum forecasts the native digital assistant installed base to grow from 3.6 billion (from last year) to 7.5 billion active devices by 2021. As long as digital assistants are able to add and provide real value, and tangible benefits, more people will be willing to try them, and to integrate them willingly into their business operations e.g. Skype calls. The market is still in the early stages though, and with Google currently predicted to dominate, we are likely to see many more announcements for many more applications and integrations of digital assistants into devices and platforms in the near future.