Cortana vs. Siri vs. Google Now: The A.I. Wars Begin

By Rob Enderle April 08, 2014

Last week, at Microsoft Build we got a far better sense for Cortana, Microsoft’s next generation phone A.I. system.   She is expected to be a generation more advanced than Siri and Google Now - both of which have been in the market for some time and have improved since launch.   Currently, Siri is generally better at tasks and may have an edge with car integration while Google Now is better for web searches (as you might imagine) but Cortana is expected to be smarter than both - which should start a war between these vendors for who has the smartest artificial intelligence.   Let’s talk about what happens when your smartphone actually gets smart.  

Cortana

Taken from the game Halo, Cortana will emerge as a relative infant both in terms of time in market and in terms of what she will become over the years.   Microsoft has been working on digital assistants for decades and they had a number of failed earlier offerings that proceeded Siri and Google now but weren’t successful.   Microsoft BOB was the first attempt to turn a computer into something more personal and while it actually was successful with people who were afraid of computers, it failed.   This was followed by Clippy, an automated assistant for Office and it too died an ugly death.   Following Clippy was AutoPC, which actually was rather interesting - but the speed of the mobile processors in the 1990s wasn’t a fraction of what they are today and the solution was slow both in speed and intelligence.  

Cortana comes out of the Xbox Game Halo where she is an emulation of a sentient assistant that helps you complete levels and, if you’ve played Halo, you can get rather attached to her.   Halo remains one of the most successful games in history and it is largely behind the Xbox’s eventual dominance of the console game space.   Her implementation in the Windows phone won’t be as advanced but as implemented, she is designed to be far smarter than Siri or Google now currently are.  

The result should be a far better digital assistant, one that can better anticipate our needs, take into account changes in your schedule or location to automatically suggest different alternatives, and understand what you want far more accurately than her predecessors.    

A.I. Wars

This should result in a rapid battle between the three companies with regard to who can create the most advanced and helpful A.I. going forward.  Over time, as folks have done with Siri, people will become even more invested in the A.I. engine they most use and given much of the processing is in the Cloud, that intelligence and the relationship should move and improve from phone to phone.    I expect many people will form bonds with their A.I. and be increasingly loyal to the ones they end up with.  

With higher home, work, and automotive integration, these A.I.s will increasingly be able to pay bills on command or automatically adjust lights or music in response to your mode and changing interests and even begin posting for you on social media.   In a few years, many things you connect with electronically may not know where you leave off and the A.I. begins.   While you can see some of what is coming in the movie "Her" (Siri saw it and was impressed) which clearly drifted into Science Fiction for some, this reality may not be that far off.  

Wrapping Up

As these A.I.s get ever more capable, you kind of wonder whether they will start talking ‘smack’ to each other.   For instance, on a radio show this week when Siri was asked about Cortana she acted as if she had never heard the name before, a virtual “who is that nobody.”  Cortana will likely respond “Oh, no she didn’t!”  But more interesting is that once an A.I. takes over paying bills and responding to your texts and other messaging, I wonder how long after you die until folks realize you have died?   Probably until whatever funds you had left run out.  Perhaps this is the beginning of digital immortality?   




Edited by Stefania Viscusi

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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