Chapter 5. Cortana, Your Voice Assistant

Cortana is a crisply accurate, uncomplaining, voice-commanded servant. No voice training or special syntax is required. You can say, “Wake me up at 7:45,” or “How do I get to the airport?” or “What’s the weather going to be like in San Francisco this weekend?” or “What’s 453 divided by 4?” or “Turn off the PC,” or even “What’s the meaning of life?”

You can ask questions about sports, news, weather, math, history, and much more. Each time, Cortana shows you the answer, fetched from the Internet (and usually speaks it, too). She also lets you control, by voice, many brands of smart-home thermostats, light bulbs, door locks, and so on.

Older speech-recognition systems work only if you issue certain limited commands with predictable syntax, like, “Call 445-2340” or “Open Microsoft Word.” But Cortana has been programmed to respond to casual speech, normal speech. It doesn’t matter if you say, “What’s the weather going to be like in Tucson this weekend?” or “Give me the Tucson weather for this weekend” or “Will I need an umbrella in Tucson?” Cortana understands almost any variation.

And she understands regular, everyday speaking. You don’t have to separate your words or talk weirdly; you just speak normally.

Now, it’s not Star Trek. You can’t ask Cortana to clean your gutters or to teach you French. (Well, you can ask. Anytime she doesn’t have an answer for you, she opens up your web browser and displays the Bing search results for your question.) ...

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