News

POV: Alexa and Cortana get chatty

Background:

Amazon’s AI Alexa and Microsoft’s AI Cortana will now be able to ‘talk to each other’ with a deal that makes it possible to access one AI’s services from the other.

Details and Implications:

In practical terms the deal means that users of Alexa will be able to say ‘Alexa, open Cortana’ when talking to an Amazon Echo device and users of Windows 10 devices will be able to say ‘Cortana, open Alexa’ and then access services from the other AI.

Speaking about the deal to the New York Times, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos cited Cortana's superior integration with Outlook, the popular calendar and email application that is part of the Microsoft Office suite of software, as just one of the benefits of the deal for Alexa users. This will enable Alexa users greater access to questions about their schedules and therefore make Alexa more useful and ergo, people will spend more time talking with Alexa.

Those people who are already users of Cortana will be able to access the 20,000+ Alexa skills that are already in existence, allowing you to do things such as control smart home devices like lighting and heating and of course, you will be able to shop through Amazon.

At a business level the partnership also makes sense. There is less competition between Amazon and Microsoft than there is between Amazon and Google, so synching up their respective AIs to offer more services to users and make the AIs more useful and used makes perfect sense. Microsoft Bing is also already the default search engine for Alexa, so from Microsoft’s perspective the more it can get people searching using either Cortana or Alexa the more ad dollars it can make through Bing.

There are suggestions in the press that Amazon is trying to find more search and knowledge graph data and is hoping that a closer integration with Cortana and Bing will enable it to do this – but neither CEO talked about this as part of the partnership.

At the same time that Amazon and Microsoft were cozying up, Google was expanding the reach of its own AI – imaginatively named ‘Google Assistant’ – by baking it into a range of third party hardware. Smart speaker devices including the Panasonic GA10, Zolo Mojo by Anker and TicHome Mini by Mobovi are all going to be enabled by Google Assistant and it is also moving into the world of home appliances by enabling washers, dryers and even vacuums from LG. The move comes ahead of Apple’s launch of the HomePod, its own move into the smart speaker market, powered by its own AI Siri. 

Summary:

Battle lines are being drawn in the voice war. Ubiquity is going to be vital in order to access all the valuable voice data that consumers will be offering up as we move from touch-based control to voice-based control of our lives. It’s unlikely that Amazon and Microsoft’s partnership heralds a new era of interoperability and both Apple (iOS and Siri) and Google (Android and Assistant) have too much invested in their own ecosystems to collaborate. 

Further Reading:

New York Times

Techcrunch

Google Blog Post