The Invoke Smart Speaker Brings Microsoft’s Cortana AI to Your Living Room

Invoke-Cortana

Cortana virtual assistant already integrates into Windows 10, works on iOS and Android, and will start showing up in cars soon, it’s ready for your home with Invoke. It's good for work, good for play, even has a cool name.

The new Invoke speaker, made by Harman Kardon, is more or less a direct copy of the Amazon Echo - a tall, cylindrical speaker with a blue light at the top that glows when the speaker is listening to you. It can control some of your smart-home devices, set reminders, name the members of One Direction (RIP), and many other things Echo can also do. So far, the Invoke appears to have exactly one unique feature: It can make and receive calls with Skype.

Hey Cortana, open Alexa: Microsoft and Amazon’s first-of-its-kind collaboration

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I talk to Cortana every day — at home, work and on-the-go — to get information about my day, to set reminders so I don’t forget things, and to answer my questions. But I don’t just use one digital assistant. I also frequently talk to Alexa to listen to audio books or to add things to my shopping list. Because people use and interact with all kinds of products, we’re very excited to announce a first-of-its-kind collaboration with Amazon between Cortana and Alexa that will offer more choice, value and access to both intelligent personal assistants.

Available later this year, this collaboration will allow you to access Alexa via Cortana on Windows 10 PCs, followed by Android and iOS in the future. Conversely, you’ll be able to access Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Show.

As our CEO, Satya Nadella, said in today’s Amazon press release, the collaboration between Microsoft and Amazon reflects our belief that when people and technology work together, everybody wins:

“Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us. Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

By bringing Cortana to Alexa and Alexa to Cortana, I’m excited that we’re adding more value and choice for consumers and developers alike. Cortana users will be able to have Alexa shop on Amazon.com and manage their Amazon orders and access many of Alexa’s third-party skills by asking Cortana to open Alexa, just as Alexa users will have access to Cortana’s world knowledge and helpful productivity features such as calendar management, day at a glance and location-based reminders simply by asking Alexa to open Cortana.

Microsoft announces formation of AI and Research Group with over 5000 computer scientists

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For the last year or so, Microsoft has backed artificial intelligence as "the most important technology on the planet" and has released various products that make use of AI. The company's flagship AI product, Cortana, is available to all Windows 10 users - although its capabilities vary depending on which part of the world you're in. Now, the company will be bringing its artificial intelligence research under one umbrella with the formation of the Microsoft AI and Research Group that will include 5000 computer scientists.

The AI and Research Group will be headed by Microsoft veteran of 20 years, Harry Shum, who has worked with Microsoft Research and Bing prior to this appointment. The group will bring together various related teams such as Information Platform, Cortana and Bing, and Ambient Computing and Robotics teams.

According to Microsoft's post about the announcement, the company will be taking a four-pronged approach to democratize AI:

  • Agents: Harness AI to fundamentally change human and computer interaction through agents such as Microsoft’s digital personal assistant Cortana
  • Applications: Infuse every application, from the photo app on people’s phones to Skype and Office 365, with intelligence
  • Services: Make these same intelligent capabilities that are infused in Microsoft’s apps —cognitive capabilities such as vision and speech, and machine analytics — available to every application developer in the world
  • Infrastructure: Build the world’s most powerful AI supercomputer with Azure and make it available to anyone, to enable people and organizations to harness its power

Currently, there are no announcements regarding any upcoming products, but with the newly formed group we can surely expect to hear more about AI and related products from the software giant in the not-too-distant future.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft's multipronged strategy for bringing speech to IoT devices

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Microsoft has been stepping up its game around connecting its Azure cloud services to Internet of Things (IoT) devices. But few may realize the company also is simultaneously working to bring its various speech capabilities to IoT devices, too.

Microsoft provides IoT developers with various tools for integrating speech with their devices. There are built-in Windows 10 speech application programming interfaces (APIs) for tasks like dictating a simple message and Web search. There are natural-language services -- known as Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS) -- that are part of Microsoft Research's Oxford API set, and are available for non-Windows platforms, too. There's Bing Translate. And there's Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant.

Figuring out which of these tools is best for which kinds of tasks seemingly can be a bit tricky. Company officials provided a framework for guidance during WinHEC, listing some potential scenarios, like controlling a sous-vide machine by voice (using a combination of LUIS with Windows 10 or Oxford Speech APIs), and controlling a robot using voice (using Windows 10 local speech APIs).

In the home automation/device control example, Microsoft showed how a user could check whether her/his garage door is closed with voice queries without having to use a phone or tablet.

Toshiba will build a Cortana button into its Windows 10 laptops


Cortana will be one of the major features to come to Windows 10, and at least one PC vendor plans to treat her especially well. Toshiba's Windows 10 laptops will feature a dedicated Cortana button, for launching Microsoft's digital assistant from your keyboard.

The Cortana key will be on all of Toshiba's Windows 10 PCs—“across the board, top to bottom,” according to Jeff Barney, the general manager and vice president in charge of Toshiba America’s PC business. The key will sit in the upper left area, near the function keys, he said. Triggering it will launch Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant.

Cortana was first introduced as part of the Windows Phone platform as a way for users to interact with the operating system without using a keyboard. Tapping and holding the phone’s search key triggers the service, which can respond to oral questions, set reminders, navigate to nearby locations, and perform a number of other tasks when verbally requested. With Windows 10, Cortana will live inside desktop PCs as well as phones and tablets. 

But on both the phone and the PC, Cortana’s ability to “actively listen” has been problematic, with difficulty picking up and reacting to the use of the “Hey Cortana” phrase that triggers it. In practice, it's been far more successful when manually triggered.  

The idea behind the dedicated Cortana button, Barney said, is to make sure that “Cortana is listening when you want it to.” The company has added high-fidelity array mics to its PCs to improve Cortana’s ability to understand what you say.

Why this matters: If a user wants to use the Cortana feature on Windows 10, he or she has either had to tap the Cortana icon on the screen or move the mouse to trigger the service. Placing a dedicated Cortana button on the keyboard is a smart idea, especially if the service proves to be a hit.  Frankly, I’d be willing to bet that Microsoft also releases a mouse that does the same thing.

Hello World: Windows 10 Available on July 29

Today, I’m excited to share the availability date for Windows 10. In fact, I thought I’d let Cortana, the world’s most personal digital assistant, share the news. You can ask Cortana for the answer, or if you don’t have a Windows phone or a PC running the Windows 10 Insider Preview handy – you can hear it for yourself here:

Through the feedback and testing of over four million Windows Insiders, we’ve made great progress on Windows 10 and we’re nearly ready to deliver this free upgrade to all of our Windows customers*.

Do Great Things with Windows 10

We designed Windows 10 to create a new generation of Windows for the 1.5 billion people using Windows today in 190 countries around the world. With Windows 10, we start delivering on our vision of more personal computing, defined by trust in how we protect and respect your personal information, mobility of the experience across your devices, and natural interactions with your Windows devices, including speech, touch, ink, and holograms. We designed Windows 10 to run our broadest device family ever, including Windows PCs, Windows tablets, Windows phones, Windows for the Internet of Things, Microsoft Surface Hub, Xbox One and Microsoft HoloLens—all working together to empower you to do great things.

Familiar, yet better than ever, Windows 10 brings back the Start menu you know and love. Windows 10 is faster than ever before, with quick startup and resume. And Windows 10 provides the most secure platform ever, including Windows Defender for free anti-malware protection, and being the only platform with a commitment to deliver free ongoing security updates for the supported lifetime of the device.

We’ve designed Windows 10 to help you be more productive and have more fun, with a range of innovations**:

  • Cortana, the world’s first truly personal digital assistant helps you get things done. Cortana learns your preferences to provide relevant recommendations, fast access to information, and important reminders. Interaction is natural and easy via talking or typing. And the Cortana experience works not just on your PC, but can notify and help you on your smartphone too.

Cortana in Windows 10

  • Microsoft Edge, is an all-new browser designed to get things done online in new ways, with built-in commenting on the web – via typing or inking — sharing comments, and a reading view that makes reading web sites much faster and easier. With Cortana integrated, Microsoft Edge offers quick results and content based on your interests and preferences. Fast, streamlined and personal, you can focus on just the content that matters to you and actively engage with the web.

Inking on websites in Microsoft Edge

  • Office on Windows: In addition to the Office 2016 full featured desktop suite, Windows 10 users will be able to experience new universal Windows applications for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, all available separately. These offer a consistent, touch-first experience across a range of devices to increase you productivity. Designed from the ground up to run on Windows 10, you can easily create and edit Word documents, and deliver PowerPoint presentations while annotating on the fly. With new touch-first controls in Excel you can create or update spreadsheets without a keyboard or mouse. You will also be able to enjoy new versions of OneNote and Outlook, which are included with Windows 10 at no additional cost.
  • Xbox Live and the integrated Xbox App bring new game experiences to Windows 10. Xbox on Windows 10 brings the expansive Xbox Live gaming network to both Windows 10 PCs and tablets. Communicate with your friends on Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One – while playing any PC game. You can capture, edit and share your greatest gaming moments with Game DVR, and play new games with friends across devices. You can play games on your PC, streamed directly from your Xbox One console to your Windows 10 tablets or PCs, within your home. Games developed for DirectX 12 in Windows 10 will see improvements in speed, efficiency and graphics capability.
  • New Photos, Videos, Music, Maps, People, Mail & Calendar apps have updated designs that look and feel familiar from app to app and device to device.  You can start something on one device and continue it on another since your content is stored on and synched through OneDrive.

Photo app on Windows 10

  • Windows Continuum enables today’s best laptops and 2-in-1 devices to elegantly transform from one form factor to the other, enabling smooth transitions of your tablet into a PC, and back. And new Windows phones with Continuum can be connected to a monitor, mouse and physical keyboard to make your phone work like a PC.
  • Windows Hello, greets you by name and with a smile, letting you log in without a password and providing instant, more secure access to your Windows 10 devices. With Windows Hello, biometric authentication is easy with your face, iris, or finger, providing instant recognition.
  • Windows Store, with easy install and uninstall of trusted applications, supported by the broadest range of global payment methods.

In addition to these innovations, we will continue to update Windows 10 over time with new innovations to help you be more productive and have more fun. Like Windows 10 itself, these updates will be free for the supported lifetime of your device.

You can see these features in action in this video.

Get Ready for Windows 10

On July 29, you can get Windows 10 for PCs and tablets by taking advantage of the free upgrade offer, or on a new Windows 10 PC from your favorite retailer. If you purchase a new Windows 8.1 device between now and then, the Windows 10 upgrade will be available to you and many retail stores will upgrade your new device for you.

The Windows 10 upgrade is designed to be compatible with your current Windows device and applications*. We are hard at work to make this upgrade process a great experience. You can reserve your free Windows 10 upgrade now through a simple reservation process. Look for this icon in your system tray at the bottom of your screen, simply click on the icon, and then complete the reservation process. You can find more details on how this works at Windows.com.

Reserve your Windows 10 upgrade

Thank you for choosing Windows. We are designing it for you, so you can be more secure, more productive, have more fun.

Terry

* Initial release will be for PC and tablets. See Windows.com/windows10upgrade for availability and other details.

** Specific features may not be available in certain markets, some features require specified hardware, and Continuum for phone available on select premium models at launch.  More details at Windows.com/windows10specs and xbox.com/windows-10.

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