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Meet Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Siri

Microsoft gives a nod to the Halo fans with the name of its upcoming digital assistant for Windows Phone.

Microsoft is getting ready to release a Windows Phone update that will include a personal assistant called Cortana, after the artificial intelligence (AI) in the Halo game series.

Cortana as she appears in Halo 4. (Credit: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios)

Cortana will be a natural language assistant that can learn and adapt, according to reports on CNET's sister site ZDNet.

Cortana will reportedly be much bigger than just a way to interface with your phone. It is anticipated to be the core to an entire makeover of the services and experience across the future versions of Windows Phone, Windows and even the Xbox One operating systems.

Back in July, when the Microsoft reorganisation was announced, CEO Steve Ballmer noted that Microsoft was working on "a family of devices powered by a service-enabled shell".

Ballmer said:

Our UI will be deeply personalised, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world. Our shell will natively support all of our essential services, and will be great at responding seamlessly to what people ask for, and even anticipating what they need before they ask for it.

The eventual plan seems to be an intuitive natural language interface that works across multiple devices and can anticipate user requests before they're delivered.

The Verge has located some Cortana screenshots, but has pointed out that these are from an older, demo build and unlikely to be representative of what's actually coming up.

The Windows Phone update that will contain Cortana is expected in early 2014. Back in 2011, when talking about speech functions in Bing, Microsoft told ZDNet that a complex digital assistant (such as Cortana) wouldn't be possible until "three to five years" from that time.