Microsoft Becoming a Big Player in Language Technologies

We have been discussing times and again the use of language technologies and the main players in the field. It is seems that in the changing landscape of the new technologies and natural language techniques there is a company that lacked our attention for the moment. At the same time, their advancements in the language technologies are getting big and can no longer be ignored. Microsoft news have shown that the company is working on quite a number of artificial intelligence and natural language techniques integrated in the core of their products.

In the previous months Microsoft launched Cortana that has become one of the personal assistant applications alongside with Siri and Google Now[i] according to Gizmodo, on Windows Phones, and it now seems to appear on Xbox and Windows 10[ii]. It sounds like an excellent idea if the notes and search results can be available across devices via a cloud solution and modified or followed accordingly!

Language technologies is definitely a sign of working with artificial intelligence techniques, as since its early years artificial intelligence was tightly connected with languages processes. Already Alan Turing “proposed that the ability to carry on a believable conversation could serve as a test of a truly intelligent machine in 1950”[iii] (Dahl 2013). The ability of machines to process input human text and provide a relevant output has always remained one of the principal tasks artificial intelligence technologies tempted to accomplish.

Several simultaneous factors mentioned below:

  1. Need for easier dialogue means than traditional GUI for smartphones;
  2. Availability of mobile Internet;
  3. Moore’s law contributing to the power of smartphones’ processors;

were favourable to the fact that nowadays “we have powerful personal assistants; like Apple’s Siri, that respond to everyday types of natural language requests”[iv].

Proliferation of the smartphones and their increasing functionalities created the need for an easier human-machine interaction than the keyboard input and the graphic user interface and the voice recognition technology comes up to fulfil the demand for new forms of input. And personal assistants on the smartphones have become a class of applications actively used in our daily life.

However, a new shift is already there. After having switched to mobile devices, we are definitely going to set our lives (or at least work) in the cloud. Thus, having the same application cross-devices is a great advantage Microsoft is taking. They are surely not the only one, as Google has already implemented this approach with the Google account and search and location history across platforms with Android and Chrome.

For Microsoft this may mean that people (or enterprises) locked-in with Windows on their PCs may wish using Windows Phones, increasing the presence of Windows (which is currently marginal) in the mobile world.

There has been another launch of language-related technology performed by Microsoft recently. Skype has now been powered with an instant translation feature for voice calls[v]. In order to introduce this feature a whole set of language techniques should be used together for creating a global solution – speech recognition, natural language understanding, machine translation and speech synthesis should be bundled together with learning mechanisms helping to improve all these processes. The performance of the feature is yet to be tested, but it is another proof of concept of language technologies being combined for a brand new use case. Should this technology meet Cortana in the future? This may be a new idea and a new use case to come.


 [i] Siri vs. Google Now vs. Cortana: The Ultimate Voice Control Showdown by Eric Limer for Gizmodo, November 18, 2014, online, accessed December 15, 2014

[ii] Leaked Windows 10 Build Shows Xbox App, Cortana Integration by Paul Tassi for Forbes, December 15, 2014, online, accessed December 15, 2014

[iii] Natural Language Processing: Past, Present and Future by Dahl, D.A. in A. Neustein & J. A. Markowitz, eds. Mobile Speech and Advanced Natural Language Solutions. New York: Springer, pp. 49–74.

[iv] Natural Language Processing: Past, Present and Future by Dahl, D.A. in A. Neustein & J. A. Markowitz, eds. Mobile Speech and Advanced Natural Language Solutions. New York: Springer, pp. 49–74.

[v] Skype's newest app will translate your speech in real time by Tom Warren for The Verge, December 15, 2014, online, accessed December 15, 2014