• November 10, 2017
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Voice Assistants Get Friendly with One Another

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Amazon and Microsoft announced recently that Alexa will soon be able to talk to Cortana, and vice versa. Amazon Echo device users will be able to ask the Alexa virtual assistant to open Cortana, and Windows 10 device users will be able to ask Cortana to open Alexa.

Alexa customers will be able to access Cortana’s unique features, like booking a meeting, accessing work calendars, reminding you to pick up flowers on your way home, or reading work email. Similarly, Cortana customers can ask Alexa to control their smart home devices, shop on Amazon.com, interact with many of the more than 20,000 skills built by third-party developers, and much more.

“Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in a statement. “Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

“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. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, in a statement. “It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana.”

Alexa and Cortana were due to start talking to each other toward the end of this year.

Erin Jordan, co-author of the Walker Sands “2017 Future of Retail” study, believes that as Cortana and Alexa become better acquainted, it will speak volumes to the rise of voice commerce and the importance of providing a more seamless customer experience for shoppers.

Given that nearly a quarter of consumers (24 percent) own a voice-controlled device like Amazon Echo (16 percent) or Google Home (6 percent), and another 20 percent plan to purchase one in the next year, this is a smart move by the two tech giants, she says. This is especially true given that Alexa remains the top device on the market, with as much as 70 percent of the market share.

Others in the industry are equally enthusiastic about the integration between Cortana and Alexa.

“Voice and zero-UI interactions are currently limited by the capabilities programmed into each model. Alexa enables a set of defined skills for specific use cases, and Cortana is designed to be a voice interaction interface for findability and retrievability. Combining capabilities allows additive use case patterns. When the systems connect multivariable flows and enable learning and iteration, only then will we see the real power of cognitive intelligence in voice interface,” says Stephanie Trunzo, chief digital officer and chief operations officer at PointSource, a digital transformation company.

Marc Vontobel, founder and chief technology officer at Starmind, views the partnership as one with massive implications for the workplace and believes a surge within the industry is likely, with other partnership announcements close behind to help build the voice assistant marketplace rapidly. Vontobel has been working with B2B smart assistants for more than a decade and recently helped bring to market JWT’s Pangaea, an A.I.-powered information and problem-solving resource. 

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