Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, could be getting an upgrade–and Intel may be helping. On Wednesday, at the Windows Hardware Engineering Community (WinHEC) event in Shenzhen, China, Microsoft and Intel announced a partnership for Project Evo, where the two companies will work on efforts in security, artificial intelligence and Cortana, mixed reality, and more.

Up first for Cortana is far-field speech communications capabilities. This means that users will be able to ask Cortana a question, or request that a song play, from further away in a room, the press release said. This is important because it sets the stage for Microsoft Cortana to power home hub devices that could compete with the likes of the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

With the increasing commoditization of consumer hardware, the future of PCs and smartphones will increasingly be defined by contextual services like AI-powered digital assistants. By improving Cortana’s abilities, Microsoft is better positioning itself to compete in the future PC and mobile device markets.

SEE: Microsoft Cortana: The smart person’s guide

The enhancements that could come to Cortana are just another indication of how much emphasis Microsoft is placing on its assistant. In August, Microsoft purchased AI-scheduling service Genee, which could further improve Cortana’s usefulness among professional users.

Additionally, in October, Microsoft’s AI research hit a milestone, in that it was able to achieve “human parity,” meaning that its AI can understand conversational speech as well as humans. These could all be among the first steps in Cortana’s transition to the core product in Microsoft’s portfolio.

The Intel and Microsoft partnership will also focus on improving security capabilities, the release said, especially biometric authentication features such as Windows Hello. These security advances will also help to protect devices against evolving threats, with Intel providing security analytics as well, the release said.

According to the press release, the pair will also be working on gaming innovations, and “mixed-reality experiences for everyone through affordable PCs and head-mounted displays (HMDs) that blend the physical and virtual realities in ways no other platform can.” The mention of HMDs makes sense, as Microsoft spoke this summer about utilizing Windows 10 across a variety of devices, not just its proprietary Hololens headset.

Additionally, Microsoft announced that Windows will be coming to the ARM computing architecture, and the firm will be working on new options for cellular connectivity on Windows 10 devices.

“Customers will be able to easily buy data directly from the Windows Store and be in control of how they use Wi-Fi and cellular networks, consume data, and manage costs. Partners will be able to build always-connected devices without hindering form-factor design,” the release stated.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Microsoft and Intel are teaming up for Project Evo, which will see improvements in AI efforts, security features, and mixed reality computing.
  2. Microsoft’s Cortana will get new speech features that will make it more competitive for use in home hubs as a competitor to Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home.
  3. Biometric security capabilities and improvements to mixed-reality experiences on other HMDs will also be a major focus of Project Evo.