Microsoft's Siri rival really is based on Cortana

"Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know you."

As rumoured in February, Microsoft's Siri rival in the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update is based on Halo's AI assistant Cortana.

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Why was I programmed to feel pain?

Voiced by the same actress, Jen Taylor, Cortana will keep a digital notebook detailing the phone owner's interests.

"Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know you, builds a relationship that you can trust, and gets better over time by asking questions based on your behaviour and checking in with you before she assumes you're interested in something," Microsoft explained on its blog announcement about the incoming update. This way you don't need to worry about her making wrongheaded assumptions about you the way Amazon's recommendations are often comically inaccurate or pandering. "She detects and monitors the stuff you care about, looks out for you throughout the day, and helps filter out the noise so you can focus on what matters to you."

You can also set Cortana to leave you alone, or, better yet, set it so she'll only alert you if certain specific people try to contact you. So if you're expecting an important call, but otherwise don't want to be disturbed, Cortana can arrange that.

Cortana is powered by Bing and she'll be able to help you in third-party apps as well. This way if you want to make a video call on Skype or watch a TV show in Hulu, you can ask Cortana to pull it up for you. No need for all that pesky typing. We have people for that now. Fictitious, digital people, sure, but people nonetheless.

Amusingly, Cortana will actually have a personality and toying with her is designed to be part of the fun. "Cortana isn't just a dry computer returning search results. Just as she has in the game Halo, Windows Phone's Cortana has a bit of personality," Microsoft explained. "But you'll have to talk to her yourself to see what I mean by that." Intriguing.

Cortana will be available shortly as a beta, and fully launch later this year in the US, UK and China with other countries to follow in 2015.

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