Monday, April 21, 2014

Cortana

I was once interested in Artificial Intelligence (enjoyed I, Robot) but then I never really understood how can you program a machine to ‘learn’ so the interest sort of faded away. Then I took a Neuroscience course a couple of years ago and coded (to get a first-hand feel, not that I invented it!) something called a Perceptron, which can be ‘taught’ to do some binary operations. So it rekindled my interest in AI, though I guess I’ll never code one myself as was shown in the recent movie ‘Transcendence’. (Watch it if you’re interested in the portrayal of humans’ collective dumbness in action!) These were slight brushes on my arms of AI over the years but one that hit me right in the face was Cortana, the digital personal assistant in Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview. Following the demo video (linked above), I also played around with setting reminders, searching directions, calling people, playing music and most importantly, asking ‘funny’ questions. (The success rate of my ‘accent’ getting recognized seems to be slightly more than 50%, but whatever is recognized is ~100% accurate.) Here are the answers I received from Cortana (you can figure out the questions or just peek!):

Where are you from?

Are you dead?

Where is Clippy?

Do you like Clippy?

What do you think of Clippy?

Are you bored?

For more interesting questions and answers, watch this video:

Now you know what to avoid :)

I haven’t tried ‘people reminder’, which is supposed to be the unique feature of Cortana but I did try (actual need!) ‘place reminder’. Here’s the story: I forgot to buy sugar when I went for grocery shopping last week so I asked Cortana to remind me when I next go for shopping. She inquired where do I go for shopping and gave options: Waldbaum’s was the second option. I chose it and the reminder was set; note that she didn’t ask about the time! I was at Waldbaum’s yesterday and lo & behold I saw a message on my Phone reminding me to buy sugar! (Not that I was going to forget again but it’s nice to know ‘geo-fencing’ works!)

As I have mentioned already, I watched ‘Transcendence’ yesterday and Cortana correctly identified the nearest theatre when I asked it to find one in the morning. She also showed me the driving details. I then asked her if I can walk there to which she replied, ‘Sure… here is the walking route’ and opened up the Windows Maps app. It would be better if in the final version of WP8.1, one could choose Here Maps as the default maps app.

With such a technology in place, all you need to do is ‘ask the right questions’ and ‘ask them clearly’. It doesn’t sound quite right listening to

‘Sorry, I didn’t get that.’