Rival Virtual Assistants Cortana, Alexa to Interoperate by Fall

Later this year, Microsoft and Amazon will enable their respective virtual assistants, Cortana and Alexa, to talk to one another.

Cortana, Alexa Collaboration

"Alexa, open Cortana."

Such a command may seem heretical now, but soon users will be able to access Alexa on their Windows 10 devices. Microsoft and Amazon today announced a new collaboration, essentially enabling Cortana to talk to Alexa and vice versa.

Rather than regard one another as rivals, the voice-enabled virtual assistants will begin to treat one another as welcome guests in the fall. Andrew Shuman, corporate vice president of Cortana Engineering at Microsoft said in an Aug. 30 announcement that Windows 10 users will soon be able to ask Cortana to access Alexa to order items from Amazon, among other tasks.

Amazon's Alexa, meanwhile, will be able to tap into Microsoft's growing portfolio of Cortana-enriched intelligent services for Windows and Office 365. "By bringing Cortana to Alexa and Alexa to Cortana, I'm excited that we're adding more value and choice for consumers and developers alike," said Shuman.

"Cortana users will be able to have Alexa shop on Amazon.com and manage their Amazon orders and access many of Alexa's third-party skills by asking Cortana to open Alexa, just as Alexa users will have access to Cortana's world knowledge and helpful productivity features such as calendar management, day at a glance and location-based reminders simply by asking Alexa to open Cortana," continued Shuman.

Currently, leading virtual assistants like Alexa, Cortana, Apple Siri and Google Now are mostly self-contained ecosystems. Although there is some overlap in terms of skills and the third-party services that they can each access, direct interoperability is practically non-existent.

Today's announcement suggests that Amazon and Microsoft believe that a thriving market for consumer-facing services powered by artificial intelligence requires that virtual assistants act like more like colleagues instead of adversaries.

“The world is big and so multifaceted. There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas," said Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, in a statement today.

"Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience," added Bezos. "It's great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana."

The Echo line of smart speakers is one of Amazon's most successful forays into the hardware space. Not only is it a brisk seller during the holidays, its built-in Alexa assistant is compatible with a growing number of home automation platforms and third-party services like Uber. Recently, its sold-out status on Amazon.com has fueled speculation that an upgraded version of the original Echo is on the way.

In May, Amazon took the wraps off the Echo Show, a version with a 7-inch touch screen and video-calling capabilities. Although its overall design and sound quality aren't winning rave reviews, eWEEK's Don Reisinger recently found that the Echo Show's expanded feature set and responsive Alexa virtual assistant add up to "a stellar smart-home hub."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...