In the arena of digital assistants, iOS has Siri, Android has Google Now, and Windows 8.1 mobile devices have Cortana. The programs were exclusive to the operating system and there was no way to get the other one.
Earlier this year, we saw that Cortana will be making the leap to the desktop when Windows 10 launches, but Microsoft has bigger plans for the Halo-based character. In addition to making its debut on desktops, Cortana will also become a standalone app on iOS and Android devices later this year.
But the Cortana that's heading to desktops and rival systems will be very different than the current version, as Microsoft continues to improve the assistant through its artificial intelligence project called "Einstein." In an interview with Reuters, Eric Horvitz, the managing director of Microsoft Research, said that the research from Einstein is crucial to Cortana's success.
"We're defining the competitive landcape… of who can provide the most supportive services that make life easier, keep track of things, that complement human memory in a way that helps us get things done," he said.
This latest news reinforces Microsoft's goal of not only expanding its operating system, but also additional software like Cortana, across a wide range of devices. At the Windows 10 preview in January, there was a big emphasis on universal apps that could link your Windows mobile device with your desktop. A prominent example was the Maps app, which acts as a GPS on your phone. If you unexpectedly run into traffic, someone at home can use the same app on a desktop running Windows 10 and provide you with an alternate route.
But there's a potential security issue with these assistants in the form of Big Brother listening to every word you tell Siri/Google Now/Cortana. A recent post on Reddit by a user named FallenMyst said that they could listen to audio of people talking to their digital assistants. FallenMyst, who works at a company called Walk N'Talk Technologies, said that they listened to sound bites which at first sounded random. Over time, FallenMyst said a pattern emerged and heard people giving commands to their mobile devices.
"Guys, I'm telling you, if you've said it to your phone, it's been recorded...and there's a damn good chance a 3rd [sic] party is going to hear it," FallenMyst wrote. We won't put too much stock in that allegation just yet; we have no way to confirm or debunk what FallenMyst said at this point, but it's certainly something we'll watch out for.
This recent development might put a wrench in Microsoft's plans for Windows 10 and future expansions. Regardless, Microsoft is pushing full steam ahead with its plans, and it will be interesting to see how Cortana performs on the desktop and other operating systems.