Microsoft announces Cortana smartphone voice search

CortanaFans of the Halo video game franchise will recognize the voice of Windows Phone 8.1’s new Cortana voice assistant: It’s voice actress Jen Taylor, who voiced the character in the video game.

The beta version of Cortana that will launch in coming months actually uses more than one source, including synthesized voices. But over time, the feature’s voice will become more and more centered on Taylor, Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan told USA TODAY.

“Cortana from Halo embodies what we are trying to achieve here,” he says.

In the Halo series, Cortana is an artificial intelligence guide who is the right hand to series hero Master Chief. As in the game franchise, there is an evolution in the relationship that deepens over time — as the smartphone voice assistant gathers more information on how you use the phone, he says.

For now, Taylor’s voice is behind many of the “chit-chat” exchanges on the phone.

In a demonstration Wednesday, Sullivan asked Cortana “who is your father?”

Her response: “Technically speaking, that’d be Bill Gates. No big deal.”

Cortana is powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine and essentially replaces the search function on a Windows Phone smartphone. You can use it to make phone calls, send texts, take a note or give you a reminder.

Cortana has a “notebook” where you can store your interests, places you frequent, calendar, relationships with friends, family and colleagues and your “quiet hours.” So for instance, during your quiet hours you can let only certain calls come through.

The more you use the search function the more Cortana learns about you, by asking you if you want her to store it.The Windows Phone 8.1 update starts rolling out to consumers who currently own Windows Phones in the next few months.

The new feature adds functionality to Windows Phones that Apple and Google’s Android customers have come to know through Siri (Apple) and Google Now (Android).