Microsoft Cortana will open up to third-party devs


Cortana was named after a character from Halo 4
The battle to establish a dominant AI assistant is ramping up.
Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft has just announced new Software Developer Kits (SDKs) for its Cortana virtual assistant, allowing developers to create new Cortana skills, as well as to integrate it into smart devices.

Check out the video below for a look at some of the skills Microsoft’s Cortana can offer when incorporated into a smart device.

GE’s new Alexa lamp shines light on internet of things


GE's prototype adds Amazon's voice-activated assistant Alexa to a tabletop LED lamp.
GE's prototype adds Amazon's voice-activated assistant Alexa to a tabletop LED lamp.
Photo: GE

We’ve heard for years that the internet of things™ would imbue everything in our lives with the power of the web, all accessible by voice. If you’ve been waiting for something that isn’t a computer or smartphone or smart home hub to ask for driving directions or movie times, here’s your dream device at last: It’s a lamp that gets its smarts from Alexa.

Microphone technology is Siri’s next big hurdle


Siri popularized digital assistants, but it's quickly falling behind.
Siri needs better microphones.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple, Amazon and Google are all in a battle to create the next great breakthrough with microphones in order to make their digital assistants more powerful.

While machine learning and artificial intelligence are getting all the hype lately, few industry analysts say microphone technology will play just as key a role in taking Siri and Alexa to a new level.

Siri’s sequel beats the heck out of Apple’s AI assistant


Viv is going to blow you away!
Photo: Viv

Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer, creators of the artificial intelligence technology that brought Siri to the iPhone, today showcased a new virtual assistant that’s even more amazing.

Viv, which has been secretly in development for the past four years, is a much more open platform that works closely with a whole bunch of different services to be even more powerful than its predecessor, and to take AI to a whole new level.

Siri might suffocate the southern drawl


Siri Texas
King of the Hill's inscrutable Texan, Boomhauer, may not get a whole lot of use out of Siri.
Screenshot: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

Misunderstandings and repeated requests are among the hurdles that everyone who uses Siri — or any digital assistant, for that matter — have to deal with to run things with their voice, but some groups have it even harder than others.

If I want to make the smartbulb in my bedroom lamp turn white, for example, Siri always interprets “Make the Bedroom white” as “Make the Bedroom light,” and I can’t even imagine why I would be saying that. I can say, “Make the Bedroom green” or any other color, and it will work. But in order to get that direct-sunlight jam happening, I have to be more specific, like, “Make the bedroom light white.” And that’s not the worst problem to have with miraculous future-tech, but it is kind of hard to say.

But it could be worse; I could belong to one of the groups that have difficulty having even the most basic of interactions with Siri. And their problems don’t stem the program’s occasional deafness but rather its inherent incompatibility with how they speak.

We’re talking about Texans, y’all.

Bing’s redesigned iPhone app focuses on instant answers


bing-iphone-app-redesign - 2
Bing's new app is both pretty and powerful.
Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft released a completely revamped Bing app for iPhone today with a redesigned home page and a much larger emphasis on instant answers to search queries. Finding what you’re looking for now takes much less time.  It’s possible that this release is a stepping stone to the iOS debut of Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Google Now.

Siri’s first voice doesn’t think much of his replacement


Siri, go die in a fire, ok?
Siri's original U.K. male voice is putting his successor on blast.
Photo: Cult of Mac

We’re used to having virtual assistants like Cortana diss Siri, but it’s not every day you hear one Siri voice insult another.

Now Siri’s original U.K. male voice — actor Jon Briggs, who also performed on the U.K. version of the Weakest Link — is hitting out at his replacement, calling the new British male Siri “a little insipid if I’m honest.”