Innovation

Amazon and Microsoft team up: Alexa and Cortana will soon be able to talk to each other

On Wednesday, Amazon and Microsoft announced that their digital assistants will be able to talk to one another by the end of the year.

Amazon and Microsoft's digital assistants will soon be able to interact not only with humans, but with each other, the companies announced Wednesday.

Later this year, Alexa and Cortana will be able to talk to one another. Users will be able to turn to their Echo device and say "Alexa, open Cortana," or turn to their Windows 10 device and say "Cortana, open Alexa," according to a press release.

The partnership will allow Alexa users to access Cortana's features, such as booking a meeting, accessing work calendars, setting reminders, or reading work email, all using your voice. Cortana users will be able to ask Alexa to control their smart home devices, shop on Amazon.com, and interact with the platform's 20,000-plus skills built by third-party developers.

"Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us," Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said in the release. "Bringing Cortana's knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal."

SEE: How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back (PDF download)

Alexa currently dominates the market in terms of available skills: As of June, Alexa had 15,069 skills, compared to Google Assistant's 378 and Cortana's 65. Alexa's skillset is also growing rapidly: Amazon had only officially passed 10,000 skills in February, meaning it's offerings grew by more than 50% in just four months. Alexa's skills have since grown to over 20,000, according to the release.

Meanwhile, Microsoft brings machine learning techniques on Cortana's backend to identify words in emails that suggest time commitments, such as "I'll finish this by the end of the day," and proactively ask users if they want to set a reminder based on that language, ZDNet noted. It's likely that Alexa users will now also be able to use this Outlook reminder feature as well.

Microsoft also recently achieved a 5.1% word error rate for its speech recognition technology, matching human professionals and setting an industry milestone.

The partnership could be especially useful for business users, who will be able to better take advantage of the features of each digital assistant, especially tapping the Office 365 integration and reminders of Cortana via Alexa.

"The world is big and so multifaceted. There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience," Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, said in the release. "It's great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. On Wednesday, Microsoft and Amazon announced that their Cortana and Alexa digital assistants will be able to interact with one another by the end of the year.

2. Cortana will be able to tap Alexa's 20,000-plus skills, while Alexa will be able to access Cortana user's work calendars and emails via voice.

3. Business users may find the partnership especially helpful, as they can tap Cortana's Office 365 integrations via Alexa.

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Image: Chris Monroe/CNET

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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