Why the Voice Interoperability Initiative is good for everyone

Microsoft missed the wave of smart domestic speakers despite its late entry with the Harman Kardon Invocation. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella admitted nine months ago, reiterating the need for Cortana to complement Alexa and Google instead of directly competing.

The recently announced Voice Interoperability Initiative appears to be an extension of the Amazon-Microsoft digital assistant association, inviting Salesforce, Sonos, Sony Audio Group, Spotify, Verizon, Orange and Qualcomm to the table to work together on Voice-enabled devices and services.

The movement is correct and simply a continuation of Microsoft's efforts to redefine Cortana in a world without Windows Phone. It is also good for consumers and the impulse of artificial intelligence.

Interoperability is key for the future (and always is)

Microsoft has been pushing Cortana as an extension for Office 365 for the past year. The concept is simple: Cortana has access to Outlook, Word, LinkedIn, Microsoft Edge, To Do, OneNote and other productivity-centric skills that only Microsoft can offer. What Microsoft is not good at is all the smart home things that Google and Amazon are now dominating.

The same problem exists for Google and Amazon, but vice versa. These companies (mainly Amazon) do not have access to the business world or even what is on your PC. They cannot help with emails, Exchange, LinkedIn or anything that is done in Windows 10. Those voice assistants exist primarily in an isolated space for the consumer, either on their smartphone (Google) or in their kitchen (Amazon) .

The world that Microsoft sees (and wants) is not one in which a single voice assistant does everything, everywhere. Google may want that, but it means that consumers and businesses would have to deliver a ton of data to a company. Nor is there a clear path for Google to extend its reach to the company, since it almost has no serious reach in the business world. The same goes for Apple, Amazon and Samsung.

For Microsoft, the world of ideal artificial intelligence is one in which the "agents" of various companies communicate with each other. That is the idea behind the Voice Interoperability Initiative. In the press release about the project, Amazon explained the objectives:

  • Develop voice services that can run smoothly with others while protecting the privacy and security of customers
  • Build voice-enabled devices that promote choice and flexibility through multiple, simultaneous activation words
  • Unlocking technologies and solutions that facilitate the integration of multiple voice services into a single product
  • Accelerating machine learning and conversational AI research to improve the breadth, quality and interoperability of voice services

The idea is that these systems have simultaneous activation words. As noted in the press release:

The initiative is based on a shared belief that voice services should work seamlessly with each other on a single device and that voice-enabled products should be designed to support multiple words. of simultaneous activation.

If This project works, which means that Cortana in Windows 10 can not only call Alexa but any other digital assistant that is participating. In addition, it eliminates the current cumbersome tasks of first waking the main assistant to ask for the secondary one. This approach would have a neutralizing effect on the hardware as the speakers around us effectively become voice glasses for the world.

Smart speakers simply become hardware

Cortana still doesn't work in Versa 2, but you can do it with this initiative.

For Microsoft, the beauty here should be evident: the Invoke speaker and the GLAS thermostat were market failures. With this initiative, Microsoft no longer needs to take risks when building hardware or partnering with others just to fail.

This strategy should sound familiar. It is the one behind Windows PCs, where Microsoft allows its OEM partners to take 98 percent of the market. Microsoft can then focus on what it does best: software and services.

Surface still exists to "set the standard" and push the industry in specific directions, and with that approach, we can see more Cortana hardware in the future. But Microsoft no longer has to worry so much. After all, Microsoft is not a hardware company in the traditional sense.

The new Fitbit Versa 2 presents Alexa. Now imagine if Alexa can open Cortana directly in Versa 2. That is something that could happen. And for Microsoft, it solves a big problem: consumer reach. Should Microsoft create a portable device only for Cortana, or would it be easier to travel on the skirts of Fitbit and Amazon? The answer is obvious.

The opposite is true for Surface headphones. While some may consider Cortana useless, imagine if Surface Headphones will work with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Suddenly, those headphones become much more attractive.

Google, Apple and Samsung are still lacking in the Voice Interoperability Initiative at this early stage. Google, meanwhile, said it did not know about the initiative until recently. All that could change as this consortium begins to unite. Hopefully so.

The Voice Interoperability Initiative is an excellent example of a nascent industry that takes the next step forward. It is also one that will serve consumers better. Personal information may remain isolated, standards will be adopted and privacy compliance rules for companies will be applied. And we get a world where digital "agents" are free to flow without barriers.

Microsoft Cortana, and why the future of AI is contextual

Even if you think Cortana has no future, you have to applaud this effort. When combined with the opening of Cortana in Windows 10, Microsoft and its partners are pushing the industry in the right direction that is best for everyone.

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Updated: September 26, 2019 — 6:50 pm