Microsoft wants you to talk sweetly to Cortana, not blurt commands

In a meandering CNET article about the creators of Microsoft’s digital assistant, program manager for Cortana Marcus Ash revealed that the reason they gave Cortana a touch of personality was to encourage users to speak to the service in natural language.

"If you don’t tell us natural language phrases, we can’t train the system," Ash said in an interview in April. "If we can’t train the system, then we don’t understand natural language phrases."

The aim was to get people comfortable using the assistant and to encourage users to keep on using it.

"You can’t make this faceless thing and expect people to talk to it," Ash said.

Designer Sogol Malekzadeh noted that Chit Chat, Cortana’s ability to tell a joke or make a snarky remark, was something the team invested in early. She said it was because it was important Cortana sounded human.

Otherwise, she noted people would drop the natural language and revert back to basic search phrase. More critically, the natural language and quick responses help create that emotional bond between Cortana and the user, which was a primary goal for Malekzadeh. "Similar to when you create a piece of art, you like your audience to connect with you through that lens, in their own unique way."

Without that connection Cortana can fall in the same trap as Siri.

"Siri was cool for five minutes," said Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research. "It could do a couple of things, then it abysmally failed."

Siri is currently a little used gimmick, but Microsoft hoped Cortana could expand much further, with the service expected to show up in the next major version of Windows.

Malekzadeh noted that she was careful to not goo far in humanizing Cortana.

"We recognize she’s an AI, and she’s self-aware, but she’s not pretending to be human," Malekzadeh said. "If you pass that line, then things start to get creepy."

Read more at CNET here.

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