Microsoft's Cortana Will Make You Keep Your Emailed Promises

It's easy to make--and break--promises over email. But now an update to Microsoft's virtual assistant, Cortana, will make it harder to shirk those responsibilities.

Windows users can already have Cortana remind them about important tasks. Now, thanks to some machine learning smarts borrowed from Microsoft Research, the Halo-born assistant will automatically create reminders for any commitments it finds in their emails. It's basically the modern equivalent to having Jiminy Cricket read over someone's shoulder and make them feel bad when they fail to follow through on something they said they would do.

"Cortana does all the work in the background making this helpful feature incredibly easy to use," Microsoft said in its announcement. "To get started, simply send emails as you would normally and when you’ll do something, Cortana will recognize that and save the details in a suggested reminder for you. If you’ve specified a deadline in the email, Cortana will ping you before it’s due and save it in the action center. Other suggested reminders will be in the Cortana home. No need to copy her on the email or change how you do things today, she will adapt to you."

Members of the Windows Insider program got a sneak peek at this update in January. Microsoft said it's made some improvements, "like the ability to link to the email that the reminder is coming from and notifications ahead of a deadline," based on that feedback. The company also said it "worked to improve [its] models for identifying the commitments you’ve made so Cortana’s suggestions are even more accurate" since that January preview.

The feature will probably help some people. But it also highlights privacy concerns about Cortana, as we explained in 2015:

The problem with Cortana is that it goes beyond this more generally accepted level of data collection. Cortana will not only remember all of your search history, but it will also collect information on the people you know, the places you go, your calendar details, your emails, IM messages, your text messages, your phone calls, and virtually everything else you do. That's not to mention that the system sends "speech data" to Microsoft periodically. Microsoft is ambiguous as to what "speech data" is, so we don't know if it is voice recordings or some other sort of information, such as generalized statistics.

Microsoft has mollified these concerns by requiring people to give Cortana access to their communications. It's also currently restricted to Outlook and Office 365 work and school email addresses, although Microsoft said other email services would be supported "soon." The update is available to Windows 10 users in the United States with "support coming to iOS and Android in the coming weeks." Plans for an international launch were not revealed.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • falchard
    Thank goodness Microsoft is making an effort to remind the Mexican President to pay for a wall.
  • How about option to turn Cortana completely off so we can get back our Windows Search.

    Headline of this article should be. Microsoft will improve Cortana to more effectively spy on you.
  • dstarr3
    BREAKING: Microsoft slowly becoming much more transparent about its invasion of every sector of your privacy.
  • People have no idea how deep this spyware crap is integrated into Windows 10. Anything you say, type or fart is being sent.
  • Scrotus
    I have absolutely no use whatsoever for Cortana and all I want is the capability to remove it completely from my computer. Just give me the ability to search for a file on my machine and that is all I need. Google works just fine searching for anything on line.
  • dstarr3
    Seriously. I don't even have a microphone on my computer. I have zero use for Cortana. Let me get rid of it.
  • DookieDraws
    19275453 said:
    People have no idea how deep this spyware crap is integrated into Windows 10. Anything you say, type or fart is being sent.

    OMG! She can hear me when I fart? For realz?

  • I understand that some people like Cortana and they want to use it. And it is cool for Microsoft to do whatever they do with it but really how about nice option which says OFF and she is completely gone including message do you still want me to get you know.
  • derekullo
    Cortana: I have noticed you have been rather gassy the last few days.
    Cortana: I took the liberty of making a reminder for your Mother and Girlfriend to buy you a few bottles of Tums.
    Cortana: You have not been to the gym in a while. Would you like me to cancel your gym membership?

    See Cortana can be helpful

  • Tanyac
    ...Microsoft has mollified these concerns by requiring people to give Cortana access to their communications...

    Huh? This is contradicting itself. Mollify means to appease or reduce the impact of. How is "requiring" people to give Cortana access to everything appeasing the privacy concerns?

    Or am I not reading that statement correctly?

    So, does that mean there is absolutely no way you can completely disable and/or uninstall Cortana?

    damn, I'm glad I haven't upgraded to Windows 10. Another nail in the coffin for W10.