Forget predictive text – predictive digital assistants are coming

A predictive digital assistant that helps you complete complex daily tasks could soon be in your hands, thanks to a new collaboration between RMIT University and Microsoft.

Cortana Intelligence team

The newly launched Cortana Intelligence Institute is a co-funded initiative between Microsoft Research, Cortana Research and RMIT, which will drive the next-generation capabilities for Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana.

This includes using context to better understand the tasks that people perform and help complete them.

Co-chief investigator, RMIT’s Professor Mark Sanderson, said the 18-month project will help deliver a new class of intelligent assistant that continuously monitors a user’s cyber, physical and social activities.

“Using device-based sensors we will build a complex multidimensional data set,” said Sanderson who also leads RMIT’s Information and Systems (Engineering) platform.

“This will then be used to model and predict the personal tasks that someone is undertaking.”

This includes the physical activity and location of a user, their online and app behaviour, and their interactions with their social groups or peers. Users will opt in to have this data gathered from their mobile phone.

The Microsoft and RMIT teams will use the gathered information to create algorithms that improve Cortana.

Flora Salim, a senior lecturer at RMIT and co-chief investigator, said: “This could help make Cortana a more proactive and context-aware digital assistant that truly amplifies human capabilities”.

Meanwhile, the Cortana Research Group, led by Ryen White, will focus on “task intelligence”.

This will help move digital assistant interactions beyond basic queries for weather and traffic reports, and one-turn actions such as setting meeting reminders, to supporting more complex tasks.

Conceivably in the future, Cortana may help with chores like cooking and calendar management, which involve multiple steps, contextual awareness and a rich dialogue with users.

Photo: Bhupinder Nayyar on flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 licence

Improving industry
RMIT is the only university worldwide to be selected from a small group of invitees from around the globe to work with Microsoft on the project.

Sanderson said the institute represents a novel opportunity for RMIT’s experts in data retrieval, analysis and modelling to ensure their research is relevant to industry.

“Working collaboratively with industry is a key to ensuring our research provides practical solutions to real-world problems,” he said.

“We are excited that our students and researchers can work with the Cortana Research team on such high-impact research that has potential to significantly benefit so many people.”

Andrew Shuman, Corporate Vice President of Cortana Engineering, said Cortana especially needs this energy because it is such a nascent area.

“Working with RMIT on the Cortana Intelligence Institute is an amazing chance to inject new thinking in what we build,” he said.

Story: James Giggacher and Roy Zimmermann 

05 February 2018

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05 February 2018

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  • Science and technology

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