Microsoft is Adding New Cortana Voice AI Features to Outlook and Teams
Microsoft is adding new voice AI features to its iOS mobile apps built around its Cortana voice assistant. The updates are part of Microsoft’s ongoing reintroduction of Cortana via Microsoft 365 products after ending its independent existence over the last year. Microsoft Outlook, Teams, Lens, and Office are all going to get additional natural language controls and interactive functions.
Cortana’s conversational AI is expected to appear on Outlook over the next few weeks. The voice assistant will read messages and schedule meetings when asked. Accessing Cortana requires having the app open, with “Hey, Cortana” as the wake word. Conversational language search by Cortana through messages, meetings, and other interactions is also coming to Outlook, as well as Teams and Office. Microsoft is also adding a handwriting transcription function to Lens, turning images of writing into text that can then be added to messages by voice command. Cortana’s presence will also expand beyond the U.S., albeit still in English, to Australia, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom.
“With this update, Cortana will be able to orchestrate your voice input with on-screen experiences to simplify your personal productivity and organization,” Microsoft explained in a blog post. “By harnessing the full power of human voice, Microsoft AI, and the intelligent technology of the Microsoft Graph, we are starting our journey to enable Cortana to learn about you and your preferences in grammar and recognize your voice nuances, accent, and dialect. This new capability is our first step towards a full conversation experience. Our goal is to make it faster and easier to ask Cortana to help get things done with your voice than typing on a small keyboard—it’s with the intelligence that comes from the Graph that enables Cortana to get to know the people with whom you work, collaborate, meet, correspond, and share.”
The new and expanded Cortana features mark a new stage for the voice assistant within Microsoft’s ecosystem. In the fall, Outlook added voice controls, but Cortana was not named or used as the AI behind it. The speech-to-text power used Outlook’s AI and acted similarly, but without the unifying element of a name. It’s also notable that the news about Cortana’s resurgence comes right after Microsoft announced a change in its voice data collection policy that is supposed to give users more control over their information by becoming opt-in. The idea is to make people feel more comfortable using Microsoft’s voice products, although Microsoft is encouraging people to sign up to share their voice data. The rebrand of Cortana accelerated last summer after a major update to Microsoft Teams that added voice controls, but there are still plenty of Microsoft products that will likely integrate Cortana, not least the desktop versions of the mobile apps. Windows 10 made Cortana a standalone app that lacks abilities like smart home device control but can support other Microsoft software.