In February 2017, Microsoft began rolling out a new update for Windows 10 and its Cortana personal digital assistant. If you allow it to, Cortana will now monitor your email and then remind you of promises or commitments you may have made in those conversations but did not officially mark on your calendar or to-do list.
In other words, if you promise your boss that you will send a report before you leave the office, Cortana will remind you of that fact before you leave for the day. A flesh-and-blood personal assistant would probably do the same, so it is difficult to get too upset about the possibility Cortana would too, but the prospect of an AI nagging me to stop procrastinating rubs me the wrong way.
But you promised
This new feature was announced in a February 9, 2017, post in the Microsoft Windows 10 Blog. According to the article:
"Using machine learning technology developed in partnership with Microsoft Research, Cortana automatically recognizes when you make a commitment in email messages and will proactively suggest a reminder to you to follow through at just the right time."
The feature is available for Windows 10 and as of February 2017, it supports Outlook.com and Office 365 work or school email addresses, with additional email services supported in the near future.
To turn the feature on, click on the Cortana search box and navigate to the Cortana Notebook section. All you have to do is turn on the Notebook and then change the Permissions to allow Cortana to monitor email, calendar, etc. At that point, Cortana will start monitoring everything you promise—so be careful what you say in your emails.
I have made it no secret that I am more than just a little skeptical about the merits of personal digital assistants. If I promise to get a report to my boss before the end of the day, I will do it—I don't need to be reminded about it by some nosy AI. I am hesitant to turn control of my life over to a machine learning algorithm just yet. I need to see more proof that these personal digital assistants won't constantly screw up and create more work for me because I have to correct problems.
And my personal skepticism doesn't even touch on privacy issues, which is a whole other can of worms.
But I also know there are people in this world that are ready to embrace this technology. Despite whatever growing pains, learning curves, and privacy issues need to be overcome, the promise of an efficient personal digital assistant making their lives easier to manage is too appealing to ignore. For those people, the more Cortana can do, the better.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, bots, and personal digital assistants are all technologies of the near future, and Microsoft has fully embraced the concepts and integrated them into its products. This feature is just the latest example of the company's attempt to get in front of these trends.
So if a personal digital assistant that can read your email and remind you of your commitments is something that sounds like a great idea to you, I would suggest you give Cortana's new feature a try.
- Microsoft starts turning on its Cortana suggested reminders email feature
- How to use Cortana to perform file management tasks in Windows 10
- Could Cortana replace Windows one day?
- Democratizing AI: Are you willing to share your most intimate secrets with Cortana?
- Microsoft's AI can now understand speech better than humans
The last thing I want is a computer nagging me to keep my promises, but perhaps I am too old-fashioned. Are you using a personal digital assistant? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers at TechRepublic in the discussion thread below.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.