The personal assistant’s “black book” is an invaluable compendium of their employer’s likes, dislikes and, perhaps most importantly, spouse’s birthday. It has, however, fallen into the hands of an artificially intelligent rival.
Ahead of today’s launch of Windows 10, Microsoft researchers followed real-life personal assistants about their work to learn how they serve their employers. The researchers used their study — and the notion of the black book — to improve Cortana, Microsoft’s artificially intelligent assistant.
Cortana is one of several virtual assistants made available in the past few years by big technology companies, such as Google’s Now and Apple’s Siri. They are designed to help smooth the working day by automating certain tasks.
The real-life PA’s black book might contain information about their employer’s favourite foods, sports teams and music, allowing them to select appropriate entertainment for an evening, for example. By gathering the same information about a user, Microsoft hopes that Cortana, which is part of Windows 10, will be able to do the same.
Microsoft’s research into PAs also inspired a range of new features aimed at anticipating a user’s needs, according to Rob Epstein, senior product manager for Windows. This might involve monitoring traffic conditions between meetings and recommending an earlier departure if there was a jam.
“You see the best real-world assistants doing that,” Mr Epstein said.
Windows 10 is now available as a free download for owners of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1. It will see the return of the start menu after a hiatus in the past two major releases of the operating system. The start menu in Windows 10 will feature live information from news and other online sources, combined with “tiles” that launch desktop programmes and apps.
The new operating system will also feature Hello, a biometric identification system capable of iris, fingerprint and facial recognition.
Edge, the new web browser from Microsoft, which also launches today, features a “markup” mode allowing its user to make notes over web pages using a tablet computer’s stylus.
Michel Van der Bel, managing director of Microsoft UK, said that the company wanted to entice one billion people on to Windows 10 in the coming years. He said that Microsoft was moving towards a subscription model for Windows where people would pay for additional services such as cloud storage, rather than making the “big releases” it had in the past.