The secret patents behind our new favorite digital assistant, Cortana, is revealed

Kareem Anderson

Windows 10 Cortana Reveal

Mention the phrase “Powered by Bing” a few years ago, and you may have been laughed right out of a party. Mention the words today and you may still get laughed at and dismissed but you could at least argue what that means and how it doesn’t just mean “oh that other search engine”. While Bing still squarely competes with the likes of Google, Duck Duck Go, and even Amazon’s search engine in some markets, it’s also becoming the big data brain for a consumer facing products generating buzz.  Siri, along with Cortana, the once fictional digital assistant of Halo Universe; are  now becoming the real-life digital assistants for potentially billions of PC users in the upcoming release of Windows 10 and on iPhones.

Cortana has been making headlines for a while now on Windows Phones as the sassy yet highly functional digital assistant on mobile devices. Cortana began popping up in the view of everyday consumers with her appearance on T.V. commercials and various YouTube comparisons pitting her against Apple’s somewhat laughable Siri, and Google’s Google Now assistant. From Apple and Microsoft to Google, each assistant’s approach is different but valuable.  That value is measured in the functionality of the assistant as well as the accuracy of the information, and it would seem both Apple and Microsoft are currently betting on the power of Bing for both.

To fully understand what that means, we would need to find out how it works and how it works can be found under several patent applications. The first Collaborative Learning through User Generated Knowledge (20140201629). 

Patent 20140201629 CLUGK

So it’s a bit SciFi’sh but essentially there is a knowledge manager that organizes the combined collective intelligence gathered from separate digital assistance and then redistributes them among the assistants. For instance, I search for Christine and the Queens (newly favorite French artist) by speaking to Cortana. That verbal information is sent back to Bing (the knowledge manager) and Bing redistributes that info back to other digital assistants (Cortana or in some cases Siri). So the next time someone on an iPhone or is using Cortana independent of me, can now speak to their assistant about Christine and the Queens and that information becomes instantly accessible.

Another neat trick Bing and Cortana are using is Request and Command capabilities.

Satisfying specific intent(s) based on multimodal request(s) (8,788,269)

Patent (8,788,269)

It’s all just a fresh data grab and computational dynamic redistribution of information done by the assistant. I ask for something and Cortana adapts her understanding of the situation and quickly determines what possible solutions could be used. For instance using the camera to record parts of a movie trailer and then understanding that I may want to know the show times, actor information or Wiki based plot of the film and having that information at the ready. All very neat stuff.

None of these features will get much use if, we find ourselves using over pronunciation or yelling slowly like we’re giving directions to deaf foreigners. In comes patent, Translating Natural Language Utterances to Keyword Search Queries (20140059030) to help.

Patent 20140059030

This patent is intended to help better translate natural language, which I believe is the ultimate goal of any assistant, digital or otherwise. Understand what we say when we say it. As any person could attest to, repeating one’s self can be the ultimate killer of conversation and communication.

There are 21 more pending patents that look to help push Microsoft’s Cortana efforts above and beyond current digital assistants abilities. We should start to see even more of them come to fruition with the much larger release of Windows 10 around the world.