Microsoft Windows 10 introduces a new voice-activated personal assistant called Cortana to a mix that includes Siri for Apple products, and Google Now for Android devices.

When it comes to assessing the effectiveness of these disembodied voices inhabiting our gadgets, I am a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, especially when it comes to using them on a PC. However, I know there are many people in this world who swear by their voice-activated assistants when they are on their smartphones or other mobile devices.

So, for those users, here is a brief tutorial on how to turn Cortana on and off.

Hey Cortana!

In order for Cortana to start working her magic, you’ll have to run through a brief set up process. Click anywhere in the Search the web and Windows box located on the Windows 10 Taskbar, just to the right of the Start icon. Click the Next button to reach the Privacy screen as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Click the Next button to reach the Privacy screen.

To act as your personal assistant, Cortana is going to have to get to know you, and that means you have to agree to let Cortana read and analyze just about everything you do. If you consider this to be an invasion of your privacy, then do not use Cortana. This is an important question, so consider it carefully.

Once you agree, you’ll introduce yourself by giving Cortana a name to call you (Figure B). Click Next to continue.

Figure B

Give Cortana a name to call you.

This is the second important question you have address when setting up Cortana. You will need to have and to sign into a Microsoft account (Figure C). This will give access to One Drive, your email, your calendar, your contacts… everything. Sign in to continue.

Figure C

Sign into a Microsoft account.

The next question, shown in Figure D, is more optional. Cortana would like to change your authentication from a password to a pin. If you select the pin option, you’ll stop using a password for this device. The pin you select will also be associated with this specific device and will not work on any of your other devices. In other words, under this system, each device gets its own separate pin. You can skip it if you prefer using passwords or you can set a pin.

Figure D

Cortana would like to change your authentication from a password to a pin.

Once you make the pin or password decision, Cortana goes to work. As you can see in Figure E, she hasn’t had much time to learn about me yet. Apparently, I like weather and movies. After a few minutes, Cortana also discovered I like eating out, and she suggested some local restaurants.

Figure E

Cortana at work.

On or Off

With Cortana now active, when you click in the search box on the Taskbar, you’ll see Cortana’s suggestions. To adjust the type of suggestions Cortana makes, click the Settings button (Figure F).

Figure F

To adjust the type of suggestions Cortana makes, click the Settings button.

This is also where you can turn Cortana off if she starts to get on your nerves. However, take note of the warning–if you turn Cortana off, she’ll forget what she knows about you, and you’ll be back to square one if you turn her back on in the future.

You can also turn the voice activation system on and off from the Settings menu. Note: If you turn “Hey Cortana” on, she’ll always be listening for the key phrase. On a battery-powered mobile device, this could drain the power very quickly, so take care with this setting.

Always listening, always watching

That’s all there is to it. Now that Cortana is on, she’ll watch and record everything you do and use that information to extrapolate your preferences and suggest links to news, events, and other activities that she thinks may be interesting to you. The more you use the device, and the more information you share, the better the suggestions will become.

Your thoughts

As I said, I find the concept of a personal assistant in the form of a voice-activated app to be more than a bit creepy. I don’t want my computer telling me what’s interesting–I’ll decide that for myself, thank you very much. But what do you think? Are personal assistants a great idea? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.