SEATTLE–Aug. 30, 2017– Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) announced today that Alexa will be able to talk to Cortana, and Cortana will be able to talk to Alexa. You will be able to turn to your Echo device and say, “Alexa, open Cortana,” or turn to your Windows 10 device and say, “Cortana, open Alexa.”
Alexa customers will be able to access Cortana’s unique features like booking a meeting or accessing work calendars, reminding you to pick up flowers on your way home, or reading your work email – all using just your voice. Similarly, Cortana customers can ask Alexa to control their smart home devices, shop on Amazon.com, interact with many of the more than 20,000 skills built by third-party developers, and much more.
So for example, you’ll be able to ask Alexa to have Cortana read you your email, or perform searches that Alexa can’t handle. You’ll be able to ask Cortana to have your Alexa system turn on the lights in your garage.
Of course, you can already access SCIFI.radio by saying, “Alexa, play SCIFI.radio”, and presumably you will now be able to get Cortana to do the same thing.
“Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”
“The world is big and so multifaceted. There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience,” said Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon. “It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana.”
But back in June, Amazon’s Dave Limp expressed interest in having Alexa work with both Siri and Google Assistant. “If Apple or Google want to come calling, my phone number is out there,” he said at the time. “I don’t know if I can envision it, but I hope it will happen on behalf of customers.”
So far, so good.
As delicious as all this is to us sci-fi geeks who predicted all this stuff decades ago, we still have a few wrinkles to work out. The voice-controlled A.I. marketplace is going through the same phase that every new technology goes through, with each manufacturer jockeying for position. Amazon rules the roost with its Alexa-infused Echo speakers. It was launched in 2014, and deserves the lion’s share of the credit for popularizing the use of voice in the home. Other major manufacturers were caught flat-footed, and even the mighty Google released their Google Home device only in May of last year, giving Amazon a good two year head start. They have great market penetration, though, with new smart devices being released all the time. Nothing stands still, though. Fresh competition will soon arrive from Apple’s HomePad and from Microsoft via the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker, but these are entering the market so late in the game that they’ll never have a majority stake.
All the players have designs on expanding voice well beyond the basic idea of AI-infused speakers and computers. Voice control will be in everything from thermostats to washing machines.
For example, at the IFA tech conference in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, Google announced not only new speakers with a baked in Google Assistant (including models from Anker, Mobvoi and Panasonic), but upcoming vacuums and washers from makers such as LG Electronics. You’ll be able to use your voice to ask, “OK, Google, Are my clothes clean?” It sounds like fun until you realize that Google (or any of the other companies that make these A.I.’s) will have access to information about you in detail down to when you wash your clothes, and how often.
Alexa and Cortana will begin talking to each other later this year, but an exact engagement date hasn’t been announced, and Siri is noteworthy by her absence thus far. For now the first two A.I.’s to pair up will have to make doe eyes at one another from afar.
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