Microsoft to smarten up Cortana and Bing with academic research

15 Jul 2014

Microsoft’s Cortana artificial intelligence (AI) personal assistant for Windows Phone 8.1 is about to get a whole lot smarter, thanks to the software giant’s decision to integrate academic data within its Bing search engine.

From October, Cortana – Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri – will prominently feature academic research on search pages.

Microsoft said that instead of treating scholarly information as a separate search engine – as competitors do – this information will become a first-class citizen in Bing search results.

“Microsoft Academic Search is evolving from a research project to a production effort that will leverage the full capability of Microsoft’s flagship search engine, Bing,” says Kuansan Wang, director of the Internet Services Research Centre.

“Since the academic audience is an important user segment and a source of innovative suggestions and feedback, we are announcing the new development during the Faculty Summit to broaden our engagements with this community.”

The existing Microsoft academic search and browsing experience will be transitioned gradually to a community portal in which researchers can control how much information about themselves can be discovered by others through Bing and Cortana.

Additional APIs will be added to enable universities and research institutions to contribute data searchable from either Bing or Cortana.

“The Microsoft Academic Search site,” Wang says, “will increasingly play the role for users to edit their data and influence how their information is featured on Bing and Cortana.”

Breakthrough in speech-recognition technology

Harry Shum, Microsoft executive vice-president of technology and research, featured the new integration of scholarly information into Bing and Cortana during his opening keynote for Faculty Summit 2014.

He discussed how the Cortana Notebook, which empowers users to specify how much information they want Cortana to track for them, will gain an “academic” theme. When activated, it will use Bing to discover and alert users about academic events, such as conference agendas and paper due dates, tailored to a user’s interests.

Shum also announced a breakthrough in speech-recognition technology, achieved through use of Bing, that enables Cortana to recognise more than a billion words in multiple languages that often are mixed in a single utterance. Users can speak uncommon words in a query, instead of typing on a tiny keyboard.

“By growing Microsoft Academic Search from a research effort to production,” Wang says, “our goal is to make Bing-powered Cortana the best personal research assistant for our users while augmenting the previous site as Microsoft Research’s social and outreach portal for the research community.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years