In Unlikely Partnership, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana Are Joining Forces

We’re not far off from the day when Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant orders around Microsoft’s Cortana, and vice versa.

Two of the tech industry’s biggest titans, Microsoft’s Satya Nadellaand and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, have announced a joint partnership that will allow users to enable their voice assistant to order the other virtual assistant around. The partnership certainly stands out as an unlikely alliance in the highly competitive tech industry. The two rival tech executives said that by not working together, their teams would only be holding back the progress of developing the strength of the A.I. voice assistants.

“There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas,” said Bezos.

Bezos had said in an interview a week earlier that he predicted people would eventually turn to various A.I.s the same way they turn to certain friends for advice. In a joint statement from Bezos and Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella reflected that:

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

Nadella told The New York Times that he viewed the benefits of virtual assistants the same way people look at competing for web browsers. “The personality and expertise of each one will be such that if they interoperated, the user will get more out of it.”

Now how much you get out of your interoperating A.I. assistants isn’t going to exactly be crystal-clear smooth conversation – at least not at first. Because Cortana is more productivity and business oriented and Alexa ecommerce and consumer focused, conversations will be awkward. So be prepared to say Cortana, Open Alexa and the opposite a lot.

Because they both inhabit different areas of expertise and devices though, there are less reasons for the companies to be overly territorial. For example, Alexa is mostly used on Echo speakers, while Cortana is popular in PCs. An agreement to integrate the competing products will only serve to expand the relative capabilities of each.

While there are no plans yet, Apple’s Siri could fit into the artificially intelligent voice assistant conversation at some point as well. Bezos said he hasn’t reached out, but would “welcome it”, adding “I want the consumers to have access to as many of those A.I.s as possible.”

For the time being, it’s more than likely that both Apple and Google will want to stay competitive and keep their artificial intelligence operating separately. Apple is notorious for wanting to have total control of their customer’s iPhone experience. And both Microsoft and Amazon have struggled in getting people to use their A.I. outside of the home. Their digital assistant apps for mobile devices haven’t proven to be as streamlined as those already built into Google and Apple mobile products.

Now if you’re waiting for the day when you can ask for a voice assistant to do a task seamlessly bridging platforms, do not worry, Bezos also sees a day when that “eventually happens.”

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