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article imageMicrosoft launches 'Cortana Intelligence Institute' to improve AI

By James Walker     Feb 2, 2018 in Technology
Microsoft has announced the establishment of the "Cortana Intelligence Institute," a body that will develop "next-generation" features for Microsoft's AI. It comes shortly after the company responded to concerns that Cortana's lagging behind its rivals.
Cross-industry collaboration
Announced in a blog post today, Microsoft said the institute will look for ways to directly integrate AI research into Cortana. The organisation is being co-funded by Microsoft Research, Cortana Research and the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
The Institute is unique in its intention to directly combine research with real-world implementation. Currently, AI researchers tend to operate independently of the engineers building applications such as Cortana. The Cortana Intelligence Institute will bridge the gap, providing researchers and engineers with a two-way link to each other.
Cortana on an Android phone
Cortana on an Android phone
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There are clear benefits for both Microsoft and RMIT. Cortana's engineers will have direct access to new research that could inspire future developments in the assistant's capabilities. In return, researchers and students will be able to experience how AI research is applied in real-world engineering scenarios. The collaboration will help to focus research onto AI developments with the most relevance for consumer and workplace assistance.
"Working collaboratively with industry is a key to ensuring our research provides practical solutions to real-world problems," said RMIT University researcher and institute co-chief investigator Mark Sanderson. "We are excited that our students and researchers can work with the Cortana Research team on such high-impact research that has potential to significantly benefit so many people."
Contextual awareness
The announcement comes a day after Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked extensively about Cortana and its rivals during the company's quarterly earnings call. Earlier this month, Cortana was the subject of a wave of critical press discussing Microsoft's apparent inability to grow its AI capabilities.
Alexa and Google Assistant dominated the CES tech show in January and are now seen to have a considerable lead over Cortana. Microsoft's AI supports a mere handful of hardware devices and has so far failed to noticeably expand beyond Windows 10 PCs.
Joe Belfiore  corporate vice president and manager for Windows Phone  announces Cortana  a new digit...
Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president and manager for Windows Phone, announces Cortana, a new digital personal assistant function for Windows phones, on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California
Justin Sullivan, Getty/AFP
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In response to the criticism, Microsoft's Cortana lead Andrew Shum said the company is committed to the assistant's future and views it as a long-term project. Microsoft has previously discussed its intentions for Cortana in the workplace and as a business intelligence solution for Office 365. So far, these solutions have yet to materialise though. Meanwhile, rivals like Alexa for Business and Cisco Spark are getting established.
Cortana may have a long way to go but the creation of the new Intelligence Institute signals Microsoft really is committing to the AI space. According to the company's announcement, the team will predominantly focus on developing context detection techniques that help Cortana better understand the tasks that people perform.
The company suggested Cortana could succeed by focusing on complex multi-step tasks that require contextual awareness and "rich dialogue," citing examples such as cooking, calendar management and assistance with household chores.
More about Microsoft, cortana, digital assistance, digital assistants, Ai
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