Why Microsoft's Cortana should be more human than Siri

While some are enthusiastic about Siri, she does have character issues that Microsoft might take advantage of. The smugness, for one.

Cortana. She feels things. NBC News Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I once had a girlfriend like Siri.

What she lacked in height, she made up for in a deep and abiding smart-alecness (or should that be smart-Alicianess?) that was, in its way, very fetching.

At least, at first.

But sometimes, I just wanted her to show some other human aspects. A little romance, perhaps. A touch of spontaneity. A tear or two, once in awhile.

Sadly, this wasn't to be. She had facts. She had a few very good jokes. She had some resentment about lies her mother had told her. And that was it.

That's why I'm slightly excited about Cortana . This is rumored to be Microsoft's answer to Apple's self-assured assistant.

Naturally, Cortana is intended to be so much more clever than Siri. She's supposed to be more intuitive about your every need and whim.

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Her expertise allegedly lies in learning and adapting.

This, of course, is necessary for both parties in a relationship. I'm hoping, though, that Microsoft finds a way for her to be more human.

The real (or sort of) Cortana from the Halo series has a wider spectrum of emotions than Siri. She also speaks with a greater humanity.

Naturally, it's easier to transmit the tone of dialogue in a video game than on a phone.

But, as in any relationship, we're all aiming for an ideal world. So if and when Cortana (or whatever she'll ultimately be called) reaches every window of Windows, I'd like her not to offer all the answers as if she's smarter than me. Even though she will be.

It's not that I want her to be Scarlett Johansson, who is also smarter than me. In any case, Johansson has already been co-opted by Spike Jonze to play a Siri-like character in his new movie "Her."

However, wouldn't it be uplifting if, one dark morning, you asked Cortana to check on the weather and she replied: "Chris, I'm struggling this morning. I had a very late night playing pool with Harry Styles. I'll get onto it in a minute, OK?"

Wouldn't it be charming if, just once in awhile, she replied to the 10th question that day about the topography of Uzbekistan: "You know, I think you need to change therapists."

There's a typically nerdy notion that digital assistants should be perfect, the answers at their fingertips, the clipped tones always meaning business.

In their design until now, they've been a cross between a hyperefficient secretary and a Googlie engineer who's never kissed a fellow human.

But actually, don't you want your assistant to be a fellow human? Don't you want her (or him) to be weak sometimes? Don't you want them to have moods and bad days? Don't you want them to stomp and rebel just once in awhile?

Yes, you want them to understand you. You want them to anticipate your needs, moods, and incompetencies. You want them to save you when your stupidity has driven you into a corner from which you have no exit.

But if they're going to be with you all the time, you want them to be more like someone you want to be with all the time.

Perfection is truly annoying.

 

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