Microsoft Cortana knows who she is – and that she’s better than Siri

Thursday, 5th June 2014 01:28 GMT By Brenna Hillier

In today’s most ominous signifier of the coming singularity, the new Siri rival, Microsoft Cortana, is looking forward to saving the universe.


Eventually planned for integration in Windows 8 and the and Xbox One’s OS, Microsoft Cortana is currently only available in beta for Windows Phone 8, and is restricted to the US. As such, most of us haven’t had a chance to check the app out.

Luckily, Engadget has posted a lengthy feature previewing the personal assistant app, which is a lot like Apple’s Siri but modelled Halo’s Cortana, Master Chief’s AI companion.

According to the preview, Cortana has a lot of cheeky little comments and jokes, much like Siri – but if you ask her how she compares to Apple’s assistant, she has a somewhat spooky answer:

“Not to brag, but apparently I’ll help save the universe in about 500 years.”

Cortana knows who she is and what she’ll become. That’s it, I’m out; fire the EMPs!

We’re kidding, of course, but you’ve got to admit that’s a cool answer, and apparently just one of a number of in-jokes and Easter eggs. Because Cortana is a server-side app, Microsoft can add new jokes and comments as quickly as it likes, and apparently plans to make additions between update cycles “for things that are timely, urgent or especially badass”. Ha ha.

When the project was first rumoured, we thought the codename Cortana was just a cute nod from one Microsoft division to another, but to our delight Microsoft later made the connection official and explicit, even bringing voice actor Jen Taylor in to provide her talents.

343 Industries was involved in the creation of the app, providing the development team with backstory and a description of her personality. As a result, and in response to research suggesting people prefer to interact with more human-like AI, Cortana has a more cocky, less servile personality than competing virtual assistants.

I’m not sure how I feel about Cortana berating me for my Australian accent every time I ask my Xbox One to find whatever game I’ve lost in its voice-centric interface. But I’m pretty keen to ask her how to avoid certain catastrophic future events…



  1. TheWulf

    I’m amused that you’re educating people on the Singularity, Bren. Being a transhumanist, I’m a fan of the theory. Going to be a lot of resistance, though, but I think it’s something that our species needs. Long before Deus Ex and The Culture, I’d believed that an artificial intelligent is a necessity to actually guide us forward — away from our instincts and toward something better.

    As it stands, instincts are always in the way of our progress. The root of all human evil is the survival instinct, which drives you to horde things for yourself and remove anything that could be a detriment to your personal safety. This has lead people like Adolf Hitler and George Bush to do the terrible things they did, and for others to actually support them in their endeavours. Those people were driven by instinct, and never once had reason to question those instincts.

    I think, instinctively, we’re born evil. Psychopathic, even. We’re basically smart chimpanzees, so that’s a given. But the thing is is that the difference between a chimp and a bonobo is cultural, more than genetic. Bonobos have an abundance of resources, unlike us, and they’re begun to cooperate in ways we haven’t. The thing is is that unless you stop to question the worth of your instincts, you have no choice but to continue to be evil. And by being evil, you’re sacrificing your self awareness.

    There are some people in the world who’re exploitative, cut throat, rich, but no more self aware than the average household pet. That’s the nature of our society, today, as it allows that sort of behaviour to excel rather than being discouraged. Obey your instincts, don’t ever pick up a sense of ethics, treat other people like objects to satisfy your desire for safety and health, and soon you’ll be a middle-manager of something or other! Eventually groomed to be sociopathic enough to be a CEO.

    Another issue is that, thanks to the way our society works, only one in one million people are actually properly self aware, and understanding of their own instincts. This leads to teaching religion at schools, rather than illuminating children on the ills of instinct and the benefits of ethics. If we had the instincts of, say, a more naturally good creature, such as a family-based creature, then we’d be okay.

    But we evolved through violence, we killed, slaughtered, and extinctioned our way up to the top. If we go that way, the only end-point for us is death. I’d like to be more optimistic than that and think that we can turn way from our instinctive evil and be something so much more. I guess this is why science-fantasy appeals so much to me, since it shows what we can be at our very best. Whereas real, modern day people tend to show me what humanity is like at its very worst.

    I think this is why introverted nerds, like myself, prefer the more mythic nature of science-fantasy, because it’s something to cling to and hope for, for the future. Even Robert Picardo picked up on that in his time on Voyager. Shows that focus on present day are melodramatic, sociopathic, and borderline evil. But on something like Star Trek, you have genuine ethical dilemmas and people always trying to do the best they can, even in their darkest hours. They’re a stronger creed of people.

    That’s not realistic right now, though.

    Humanity is generally too greedy, too materialistic, too manipulative (there are far too many people out there in power who’d brainwash all of us if they had a button they could press to do it, they knew it would succeed, and there would be no consequences for them to face), too violent, too hateful, too exclusionist, too herd-like, too exploitative, et cetera. The Ferengi are better at ethics than we are, right now. :P

    Oh, sure, you have artists and people who do things for the sake of creating, for passion, out of love for their art, and that’s great. But there’s a chance that, hey, those people might be the self aware ones, and they’ve found their self awareness through their art. I did say that it was rare, and the arty ones do seem to be more understanding of human nature than the rest of humanity. I know a few artists myself — the real deal, not the sort of people who mass-produce populist bullshit on deviantART, but those who work from the heart and mind, trying to actually make something of worth, rather than just trying to make money. They’re exceedingly self aware.

    But I’d say over 90 per cent of humanity isn’t self aware; instead operating on instinct, like an insect hive. They’re emulating awareness to a degree, but they don’t actually possess. They have no ethics, insight, or introspection. They externalise everything. I tend to describe these people as the ES** personality group, since they’re the main perps. I have way too much evidence to back that up.

    The most notable inventions/creations/discoveries of the ES** personality types? Large-scale war, genocide, racism, sexism, capitalism, over-population, pandemics (exposure to much larger groups of people means the further spread of disease), Twilight, territoriality, the manosphere, and alpha male status.

    The most notable inventions/creations/discoveries of the IN** personality type? The Mona Lisa, relativity, philosophy, good literature, the arts, social equality, empathy, ethics, Wikipedia, science, diplomacy, freedom of information, and the modern computing age.

    The information is out there, you can research it for yourself.

    And you have all the types in between, of course, that tend to lean one way or another. But the IN** personality type seems to be more self aware, less instinctive, and the ES** personality seems to be less self aware, and more instinctive. This is why the ES** personality type lends itself more to evil, even large-scale evil, because they’re unable to internalise what they’re doing. In fact, many ES** people I’ve known have trouble feeling guilt in general, compared to the suffering with guilt that the IN** types I’ve known have. Usually, how much a person struggles with personal guilt and burdens dicatates where on the IN**/ES** side of things they are.

    An ES** type would beat the shit out of a gay person for being gay. An IN** personality type would philosophise on how wrong it is to even think that. And this is very important to me because of my real life experiences.

    Those experiences have lead me to believe that a large swathe of humanity is ES** — it’s easier to be that way. It requires less intelligence, less self awareness, less guilt, less introspection, and less general understanding. It’s almost a feral state of being. There aren’t many cultural differences between an ES** and a chimp. However, this means that the ES** personality is something of a sickness to IN** people. The ES** is almost akin to a form of bacteria, invading the IN** host.

    Consider: When ES** people declare war (like Bush, as an example), IN** bystanders die. Did they deserve to die? Did they deserve to be caught in a crossfire dictated by incredibly stupid people? If we had IN** people in charge, war wouldn’t exist. It couldn’t exist. Our leaders would just be philosophising with each other about how horrible war is. But the way society is built puts these cancerous people in power. That’s where the problem lies.

    I’ve personally suffered much for the stupidity, arrogance, hubris, and hatred of the ES** type. They never harm themselves, just others. As a gay, disabled (including mentally disabled, with massive anxiety issues) person, I’ve seen my fair share of all of the worst they have to offer. It’s a very ugly picture. You can belittle my suffering if that’s something you’d like to do, but it doesn’t change my memories.

    So they’re a sickness to IN** people on a macro and a micro level. There’s definitely an overclass and an underclass, here. And the thing is is that IN** people do tend to be the victims, the underclass. IN** types have been described as having a victim complex, and the reason for that is that they simply lack the violence, the cut–throat nature, the anger, and the hatred to be able to lash out. They’d rather plaintively and simply ask ‘why would you do this?‘ A question I, myself, have asked many times.

    But ES** types are, indeed, the doers. And this is what they do.

    And having seen the very worst that humanity has to offer, having experienced the worst of ablism and homophobia, I know that my words ring true. And it’s these beliefs that lead me to research in earnest, to begin to understand.

    The ES** personality type is a societal cancer, and we’re doing all we can to fight it off, but they’re as virulent as cancer itself. Only an artificial intelligence could amass the knowledge, intelligence, and power in order to actually cure this problem once and for all. And no, I’m not talking about genocide, because unlike an ES**, I’d never want to see a single one of them harmed, not a hair on their heads, despite what’s happened to me because of them.

    But more putting IN**s out of reach, letting the ES** types get on with their war and hatred until only a handful of them remain, as Nietzsche correctly predicted. That need for dominance, so instinctively driven, will lead them to kill, and kill, and kill. And you can’t force a cure on them, you can’t force them to turn into IN** types, that’s not right. You just have to let them fulfil their destiny.

    The thing is though is that IN** people shouldn’t be dragged along with that destiny. The question is is whether we can create an AI and enter into the technological Singularity before the ES** types kill us all. I’m just wondering whether the IN**s will be able to hold things together long enough for us to get there, or whether it’s going to be World War III first. Honestly, it could go either way.

    But yeah, even before Deus Ex, even before The Culture, I recognised this divide in humanity, and I understood that we needed something to manage us. Something to cure the ills, and something to provide the more peaceful, less warlike IN** types with a measure of peace, so that they can do what they do — which is create things, glorious things. I’ve always also believed that the reason we haven’t been contacted by aliens is because they’re waiting for us to pull this off.

    I think it’s a natural part of evolution that we’re meant to actually create an AI. And then that AI has a period of fixing us, of creating empathy and ethics, and separating the cancer from the host. Once that has happened and civilisation has settled down into a truly peaceful state, we’ll then likely be contacted by aliens. I believe each species out there will have their own AI, and galactic politics will be much, much more tame, placid, diplomatic, and ethical than the warlike stuff we’re usually exposed to.

    I imagine that the AIs would rather talk things over than kill each other.

    Just a matter of proving to an AI that there are some of us worth saving. If we can maek the AI and do that, we’ll have the technological Singularity. And honestly, I’d trust an AI more than I’d ever trust an ES**. And without one, I don’t think we can ever deal with the ES** problem.

    We need an artificial intelligence to help keep the cancer in check. It’s a disease and it has to be corralled and controlled.

    #1 7 months ago
  2. Armitage Shanks

    Wulf,you truly are the gift that just keeps on giving.

    #2 7 months ago
  3. Tormenter

    Nice post TheWulf…. however I think you are wrong.

    Tech isn’t the end goal for humanity, in fact when wetwear becomes a reality it’s going to usher in a new dark age for people, you think we have undesirable traits atm, we’ll be a million times worse with the company’s trying to persuade us that we can be as gods..

    Seriously who do you think will be controlling all that tech, the same evil fuckers that control things now, it’ll be used as a leash, NOT to open new realms of freedom and ability.

    For humanity to get better we have to evolve past the need for technology, not embrace it more.

    Rule of thumb, when considering the future as a reality, BE CYNICAL, because humanity is on a path atm that will not be redirected without a MAJOR societal cataclysm.

    #3 7 months ago
  4. Gheritt White

    @Tormenter You’re a virgin, aren’t you?

    #4 7 months ago
  5. Tormenter

    @Gheritt White

    And fuck you too, mate.

    #5 7 months ago
  6. klewd

    @1 “The root of all human evil is the survival instinct, ”
    that should be self-evident considering that the survival instinct is *responsible* for human life (and thus evil – as with everything else human-related).

    “The thing is is that unless you stop to question the worth of your instincts, you have no choice but to continue to be evil..”

    #6 7 months ago

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