Microsoft's 'Cortana' alternative to Siri makes a video debut

A new leaked video appears to show off Microsoft's coming personal digital assistant, codenamed 'Cortana,' in action.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

One of the main new features of Windows Phone 8.1 -- the personal digital assistant codenamed "Cortana" -- has made a brief, unofficial video debut.

The UnleashThePhones.com site posted a 2-plus-minute video clip to YouTube showing what seems to be Cortana in action. Though the "speaking voice" of Cortana isn't revealed, a few new tidbits are.

(Microsoft officials aren't commenting on anything to do with Cortana.)

Cortana, which is Microsoft's rival to Apple's Siri and Google Now, takes its codename from Cortana, an artifically intelligent character in Microsoft's Halo series who can learn and adapt. Cortana, Microsoft's assistant technology, likewise will be able to learn and adapt, relying on machine-learning technology and the "Satori" knowledge repository powering Bing.

Cortana will be an opt-in, not required, feature of Windows Phone 8.1. According to the new video, Cortana, unsurprisingly, will require users to sign in with a Microsoft Account to use the service. Once users have signed in, pressing the Bing search button will bring up Cortana as the default search engine on the phone.

Cortana initially ask users questions including their preferred nickname/name, prefered leisure activities and interaction styles and the like, according to the video. It will prompt users with sample questions and tasks they can ask Cortana to perform, such as "wake me at 7 a.m."

The Verge has reported previously that Cortana will store users' personal information in a "notebook" inside Cortana. And LiveSino.Net has posted the icons that pertain to Cortana activities which were discovered as part of the leaked, recently distributed Windows Phone 8.1 software development kit and emulator. These icons -- for things like weather, stocks, traffic, places, etc. -- provide some indication about the kinds of actions/queries which Cortana may facilitate.

Cortana is core to the makeover of the entire "shell" -- the core services and experience -- of future versions of Windows Phone, Windows and the Xbox One operating systems, from what I've heard from my contacts. Cortana will debut as part of Windows Phone 8.1, which is expected to be released to manufacturing in late March or early April. It's not clear (yet) when Microsoft will add Cortana support to its other Windows platforms.

Microsoft execs have been talking up Microsoft's plans for personal-assitant technology since 2011.

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