News about a few new advanced features in Cortana, the voice-activated assistant in Windows 10, broke last week. We know she will be able to answer customer support questions and even analyze reams of data such as how many people registered for a conference. This goes well beyond the basic services Apple Siri provides such as setting up a meeting between you and the boss or texting a message to your spouse.
As we look into the future of computer-aided personal assistance, I’m hoping Cortana continues to evolve into something that really helps me in my job. For IT leaders and computing experts in particular, having a virtual assistant who is always just a voice command away could become an legitimate productivity enhancer during the week.
Here’s a few things I’d like her to do eventually.
1. Answer my emails
Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m starting to hate email and wish it would evolve beyond what we use today. I’d love to ask Cortana to answer my emails for the day, maybe by asking the sender to call me at a specific time or let them know I am too busy. More to the point, I'd like her to process all of my semi-important email. Maybe she can watch how I normally reply to messages and just take care of that tedious task.
2. Conduct a job interview
I’d be impressed if Cortana could conduct an actual job interview. Maybe I’d sit down for a bit with her and explain to her the job qualifications for a new position and what I want in a new hire, the skill-set that would fit the best, and relay a few important questions to ask. Then, she’d take over my Windows Phone and arrange the calls. During the interview, her AI would adjust and even end the interview if it wasn’t going well.
3. Research complex problems
I understand why Microsoft wants Cortana to be able to parse data. In the example at Build 2015 last week, she analyzed data from those in attendance and found that defense companies have the most computers. That’s a bit of a parlor trick, though. It’s like asking Google Now to add two numbers together. Not that difficult. What if Cortana did some real research? I could ask her to gather quotes about computing trends for my next business presentation or check long-term weather forecasts and how that relates to climate change. I could even teach her to write up this research.
4. Let people know I'm in traffic
I wrote about this idea way back in 2011. I’d like Cortana to know about my whereabouts when I'm driving and to know my schedule. If I’m running late for a meeting, I’d like her to let people know automatically based on my current speed, time of day, and traffic issues. She should replace the awkward voice control in most cars.
5. Watch my kids
No, seriously. This one could work. If I tell Cortana to keep an eye on my house while I’m gone using a security cam, she could monitor the video surveillance feed and look for unusual activity. She could let me know if the delivery guy who shows up every morning at 10 also decided to open the door and “borrow” a few dollars from a wallet on the counter. (Maybe she could also let me know I left the wallet behind.)
6. Schedule a pickup
Speaking of deliveries, what if I could ask Cortana to arrange to do a pickup for of the packages I have sitting in my office right now? It would be great if she she what was inside each one, based on my email conversations. She could even print out the return labels. Bonus if she can meet the UPS driver by name when she arrives.
7. Do my job for me
This one is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but isn’t this the nirvana state for any virtual assistant? Isn't this the ultimate goal? We could send Cortana to work in our place. We could ask her to do our taxes, to program the sprinkler system, to do an instant messaging chat with the boss. It’s possible that Cortana (and other virtual assistants like her) will become much better at acting on our behalf. I’d hire her.
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