Microsoft is Testing Voice Controls for Windows 10 After Ditching Cortana
Microsoft Windows 10 could add voice controls and interactions next year, despite the company’s decision to decouple the Cortana voice assistant from its operating system. Microsoft is testing out the new ‘voice launcher’ feature in Windows 10, which includes voice-based search and typing almost anywhere within the computer’s system.
The voice launcher in the beta test extends the new software keyboard and voice typing that Microsoft introduced earlier this year. In the beta, the voice commands are part of the search function for the computer. Any time a text field for searching appears, there’s an option to dictate the search terms for files or settings. You can also augment the dictation with automatic punctuation. It’s worth noting that the feature is being tested not only in several varieties of English, but also French, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese. The feature likely won’t emerge for public use until the latter half of 2021, but testing it this early makes sense, especially with that many languages. For Microsoft, there’s also the added benefit of gathering data on how people speak as a way of improving all of its voice AI programs. Having learned from the privacy furor last summer over how voice data is used, however, sharing voice clips is something users have to actively agree to do.
“Your everyday use of voice typing could make Microsoft’s online speech tech more accurate for everyone who speaks your language,” Microsoft explains in the feature description. “If you decide to contribute your voice clips, some of these clips will be reviewed by Microsoft employees and vendors.”
Microsoft’s years-long revamp of the Cortana voice assistant from consumer to enterprise service is almost complete, with the app shutting down in 2021 and the related skills already gone. Microsoft did decide to redeploy Cortana into Windows 10, but as a standalone app, not part of the taskbar. That means Cortana can’t handle music and smart home device requests, or other tasks it used to perform. Instead, Cortana is now more about supporting conversational AI in other Microsoft services. It could become a major player in developing custom voice assistants and chatbots. As this beta test shows, Cortana leaving doesn’t mean that there won’t be any voice controls on devices running Windows, it’s just that they will be an aspect of the operating system, divorced from any overarching voice assistant AI.