Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa to Open AI Communication Channel

NEWS ANALYSIS: By allowing their Cortana and Alexa digital assistants to talk to each other put Microsoft and Amazon at the top of the heap when it comes to voice-activated artificial intelligence.

Alexa-Cortana Lash Up

“Alexa,” I said, speaking to the Amazon Echo Dot in my office, “Open Cortana.” The device’s blue ring lit up and spun while I waited for some kind of error message.

Instead, Alexa, the Amazon digital assistant said, “Currently, you can talk to Cortana on any Windows 10 device. Later this year, you’ll be able to talk directly through me by saying ‘Open Cortana.’”

So I asked Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana a similar question on my Windows 10 workstation. I got a similar reply. Clearly, while the connection between Alexa and Cortana isn’t there yet, it’s on its way.

When it starts working, the connection between Alexa and Cortana will be a little clunky. You’ll have to tell each assistant to open the other. There won’t be any actual collaboration or any combination of shared functions. All you’ll really be able to do at least initially to access each digital assistant through the other’s interface.

This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that it’s not the full integration that you’re likely to see in a year or so. But you’ll still be able to get Cortana to look up your appointments on your Outlook calendar via your Amazon Echo device, which is something you can’t do now.

You’ll also be able to ask Alexa to order items from Amazon by just speaking to Cortana, and you can do things such as turning on your sprinklers or the lights in your home the in the  same way, all while sitting at your desk at work.

Of course, some of this, such as ordering items from Amazon, you can do now fairly easily now by just going to the Amazon website. But other items require an Amazon Echo device, such as when you want to turn on lights at home. You can do a lot of other things with Alexa on an Amazon Echo, but you can’t get it to read your Outlook email. For that you need Cortana and being able to accomplish that with your Echo device makes it much more useful.

There is some overlap between these assistants and their devices. For example, you can play music using Cortana, although the results may be surprising or ineffective. You can also handle your calendar entries using your Echo and Alexa, which works if you have Google Calendar, but nowhere else.

The real future of this cooperation is yet to come. While you will be able to load each assistant from the other’s device, the real power in this collaboration will come when each assistant will invoke the other’s capabilities as needed. The next step would be for each device to look at query it receives and decide which device is best suited to handling it.

Ideally, such collaboration between devices should be seamless. So when you ask a question or make a request, it will simply happen. Thus, when you ask Cortana to change the shade of your lights to purple, the request will be passed along to Alexa, which will change the hue of the lights and report back. From your viewpoint, it will simply happen.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...