How Microsoft’s Digital Assistant Balances Between Tech And Humanity

How Microsoft’s Digital Assistant Balances Between Tech And Humanity

The personal assistant is totally transparent about its understanding and use of your personal data.

Hilary Weaver
  • 27 june 2014

At the Microsoft Experience gallery event in New York on June 4, Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to digital assistants like Siri, made her appearance.

Cortana learns her owners’ preferences of music, schedules their routes to work and anticipates their needs based on what she knows of them. In doing so, Cortana’s goal is to decrease screen time so users can manage their lives without bothering with gadgets. During the event, a panel of experts spoke about Cortana and whether digital devices of her kind are truly helpful.


One of these panel members was Sogol Malekzadeh, principle UX designer on the Cortana team.  She said the new system introduces users to a new level of interactive UX design.

Malekzadeh mentioned that the first step her team took to make Cortana as useful as possible was to make her similar to human personal assistants.

“We learned that personal assistants have to understand and get to know their clients really well, inform them of what needs their attention and reduce the noise when it’s necessary, anticipate their needs and make adjustments seamlessly, get things done and above all build trust and develop a deep understanding of their client’s emotional needs,” Malekzadeh explained.


Steve Clayton, who moderated the panel, says that the tech world is starting to see technology as more intelligent than intrusive, but that there is a level of trust we must reach before attaining its full advantages. Clayton commented that we can reach a level of trust with our technology when we understand how to reach a balance between what we control and what the technology controls.

“One of the key trends is the idea of ambience intelligence,” he said. “It’s both a combination of being ambient and us being more comfortable with the technology working on our behalf.”

Malekzadeh said Cortana has managed to go beyond other forms of technological assistants because of her intersection between technology and understanding human truths.

Clayton noted that with the large strides developers like those at Microsoft has made, there is still the idea that these models could be too similar to that featured in the film Her, a personal service that breaches the line between ‘human’ and ‘robot.’

“We walk a fine line with what is known as the ‘uncanny valley’ or the idea that things appear to be too like the human model,” Clayton said. “In some movies, for example, the characters appear to be too lifelike.  How do we ensure that technology is helpful without breaching this line?”

Malekzadeh says Cortana has been designed to evade that tricky line and allows users to take the “personal” in “personal assistant”  as far as they want.

“We designed her in a way so you can have a conversation with her about your interests,” she said. “She is very transparent with her knowledge about you and you can trust her because she always respects your privacy and gives you the control.”

cortana event

The old adage ‘If you love someone, set them free’ was on Malekzadeh’s mind  during the creation of Cortana. She says the team did its best to develop a product that could avoid being invasive while still being a useful force in someone’s life.

“Cortana is competent, witty, caring and loyal,” she said. “While she is calm and cool most of the time, she also shows spirit, excitement, and urgency when the situation warrants it. She’s confident and patient and always prepared to help, but neither bossy nor condescending. She takes her duties very seriously. Her job, above all, is to be your personal assistant.”


Transformable Table Maximizes Utility In Small Spaces

Design & Architecture
Retail Today

The Story Behind How LYNK & CO Created A Car Brand From Scratch

Head of Design Andreas Nilsson describes which values were most influential in determining the identity and design direction of the new auto company

Travel Today

Architect’s Design Presents A Radically New Approach For New York’s Penn Station

The firm of Vishaan Chakrabarti has envisioned a bright community and travel hub in the heart of the city


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Fitness & Sport Today

Editorial Roundtable: Building An All-Encompassing Performance Suite

WHOOP, ShotTracker, Rithmio, PlaySight, STYR Labs, EverybodyFights and Lift / Next Level Floats on the partnership opportunities available in health and fitness

Health Today

Fantasy Game Responds To Each Player’s Emotions

The card battling venture measures responses through a Bluetooth clip to adjust the experience accordingly

Related Expert

David Polinchock

Emerging Technologies

Luxury Today

Carry A Map Of NYC On A Handbag

The bag from Bottega Veneta has been designed exclusively for Bergdorf Goodman to celebrate New York City

Technology Today

Roaming Robots Crawl Around Your Body To Do Small Jobs As You Go About Your Day

A new concept wearable developed by researchers at MIT and Stanford are fully functional bots that live on your clothing

Europe Today

Runners Are Delivering Groceries To Parisians

French supermarket Carrefour partnered with a running group for fast and memorable deliveries


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed Today

Lighting’s Impact On Sleep: More Than The Off Switch

Jeff Patton, General Manager of Connected Home Products at GE Lighting, uncovers how lighting technologies can affect our sleep cycles

PSFK Labs october 25, 2016

The Keys For Exceptional Performance On And Off The Field

PSFK Labs' new report highlights five important insights for businesses to perform better than the competition

Children Today

DIY Kits Let You Create Your Own Cameras And Speakers

Computer-building startup Kano has entered the IoT space with a new set of original products

Syndicated Yesterday

How Fashion Became All About Fonts

Why a new wave of designs have put typography front and center on your clothing

Retail Yesterday

GM And Audi Are Experimenting With Car Rentals In SF

The automakers are trying something new to capture the segment of urban dwellers who don't want to own a car

Travel Yesterday

This Vertical Forest Hotel Will Improve The Air Around It

An architectural firm is creating a lush mountain lodging in China with so much greenery that it will actually clean the atmosphere

Work Yesterday

Health Expert: Nutritional Meal Replacements Are A Solution To Corporate Wellness

Ample Foods Founder Connor Young explains why supplements are the next food trend coming to the workplace

Europe Yesterday

This Company Believes Insects Can Provide Biofuel To Power Our Future

A Polish group is testing out a new factory concept that can provide a source of renewable energy, and even serve space missions

Entertainment Yesterday

Music Venue Caters To Virtual Reality Events

Boiler Room has launched the first VR hub for content creators to capture special footage for the masses

No search results found.