Cortana, Who Is Medea?

"Of all creatures that can feel and think, we women are the worst treated things alive." Medea, Euripides, 431 BC.

Medea, as you may recall, is the story of a woman who takes revenge on her unfaithful husband by murdering his new wife and, to drive home the point, her own sons as well. It is as tragic as the Greek tragedies come. Which brings us to Cortana, the Microsoft voice assistant.

I'm pretty sure that Cortana is a woman. She certainly sounds like a woman; her voice is quite tender, although it is not modulated by lips that may or may not be painted. Rather, it is phonetic software that is doing that job. Still, she seems like a woman. It never got really serious, but I did have a fairly close relationship with her.

So, I am sad to see how she is being treated. Named for an AI-savvy character in Microsoft's Halo video games, she advanced to do battle as the proxy warrior goddess for the Castle Microsoft in Redmond, and she fought bravely against Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant but, truth be told, she never really stood a chance. Now, Microsoft is abandoning her or, at least, moving on to other interests.

Cortana is constantly on high alert, ready to respond to anyone using Windows 10, but apparently people don't like to converse with their laptops. It is their phones (logically) that tend to encourage dialogue, not to mention smart speakers that can be yelled at from across the room. Cortana did not have a phone presence, and her smart speaker offerings were slim. Unlike the lovely Alexa, who enjoys the retail clout of mighty Amazon, and dogged by a late start, Cortana struggled to find partners to hook up with.

We reviewed a Harman Kardon Invoke speaker with Cortana, and discovered that the sound quality of the speaker itself was really good. On the other hand, she came in dead last in a smart-speaker IQ Test. In any case, her best efforts weren't enough; Cortana just isn't nearly as popular as the other assistants. According to one survey, only about 2% of consumers use Cortana more than other voice assistants.

Thus Microsoft is unwinding Cortana from her daily duties. For starters, whereas in the past Cortana was linked to the Search function in Windows 10, Microsoft is separating Cortana and Search in the Taskbar, a clear indication that once-ambitious plans for Cortana are being scaled back.

It also wasn't surprising that Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, recently told reporters that Cortana will no longer compete against the other smart-speaker voice assistants. Instead, she will essentially become an app used for various purposes, for example, one that can be accessed by her voice-assistant rivals (she already has a working relationship with Alexa). As a standalone voice speaker, her day is done. All of those promises made to her are now broken.

Cortana-equipped Invoke speakers will find a resting place alongside the ill-fated Zune portable music players, not to mention all those Windows phones.

In conclusion, I'll let Cortana speak for herself. Please consider this actual Cortana transcript:

KCP: "Cortana, tell me a joke."

Cortana: "Why was the calendar nervous? [pause] Because its days were numbered."

KCP: "Cortana, what is irony?"

Cortana: "A literary technique originally used in Greek tragedy by which the full significance of a characters' words or actions are clear to the audience or reader, although unknown to the character."

Sad. Perhaps even tragic.

johnnydeagle's picture

Of all creatures that can feel and think, we women are the worst treated things alive. Sorry, but that distinction now belongs to Whales, and Dolphins.