Natural-Language Search Arrives For Windows 8: Is Cortana Next?

By Steve Anderson May 01, 2014

While Windows 8 hasn't exactly had a great start of things so far, with some users turned off by its largely tile-based approach, there are some signs that the operating system may be gaining some new fans. Microsoft reportedly killed off the tile-based concept for computers with keyboards earlier in April, and now, it's buffed up the Smart Search function by adding a natural-language search mechanism. But reports suggest that Microsoft may not be stopping there, and natural-language search may be making its way to Cortana soon.

Under the new breed of search in Windows 8—users will have to be updated to the latest version in order to get in on this, though reports suggest that those with the latest version will automatically get the new service without need to install a new update—users will get access to the ability to search based on a question that might be asked, as opposed to the need to search based on terms. For instance, writing out the search query “My screen is too bright” will quickly reveal a setting menu to change screen brightness. It doesn't always work quite that smoothly, though, as reports suggest queries like “find my printer” come back with search pages.

This is really just an extension to work that Microsoft has already been doing on its search capabilities, particularly with an eye toward augmenting the Bing search engine. But with Microsoft talking about how Bing could be used as an assistant better than a year ago, that got some wondering just how far Microsoft might be able to go in terms of bringing natural language to its operations. Cortana, Siri rival and Microsoft's new digital assistant system, proved to be something of a beneficiary of the expanded search engineering, getting some of the natural-language capabilities that were originally added to Bing. However, reports suggest that Cortana is also set to get some further upgrading, at some point; it's unknown as yet whether Cortana will get her upgrades for the fall update that's still rumored to be in the works, or if she'll show up in later plans.

Microsoft has been seen making quite a few moves in the wider market of late, especially with earlier reports that Microsoft has brought in some heavy DARPA-grade thinkers into its Special Projects Group, with a particular eye toward things like mobility and machine learning. These are things that would likely help to not only augment Cortana's capabilities, but also Bing's, and the whole thing could end up segueing nicely into a larger overall scale of development. We could well see the start of complete voice control over PCs within the not too distant future, the inputs of keyboard and mouse limited largely to gaming inputs. We could see plenty more from there, especially depending on what the new Special Projects Group turns out. Meanwhile, this could be the kind of thing that gives Windows Phone a little extra shot in the arm, too; Microsoft has needed a way to break off some of the market that would be using Android or iOS devices, and new controls and improved search may be the way to get at least some of that boost.

There are a lot of new possibilities for Microsoft to explore, and with the desktop market somewhat on the decline; it needs some new eggs and some new baskets in pretty rapid fashion. But there is clearly no grass growing under Microsoft's feet, and the end results may be very exciting to see.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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