Microsoft's Cortana Assistant Gets New Features Including Outlook Integration

Microsoft's Cortana Assistant Gets New Features Including Outlook Integration

Microsoft at its Build 2016 conference in San Francisco announced several major announcements including Windows 10 Anniversary Update. The Redmond giant also revealed new features for its voice-based virtual assistant Cortana which will be available in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

Microsoft says that Cortana will now “pro-actively make suggestions” for users through-out the day such as offering to buy lunch or arrange transportation. The company added that Cortana will be available above the lock screen, which will offer users quicker access to the personal assistant for tasks without unlocking the PC.

One of the most notable additions include Outlook integration which will mean that Cortana will able to check mails and calendar to offer suggestions based on the schedule. Microsoft showed off some of the examples how Cortana with Outlook integration will be useful for users such as for sending mails to colleagues without opening the Outlook app. Outlook calendar integration includes the ability reschedule events.

Integration with Android phones was also improved, with the ability to sync text messages with a Windows PC.

“And only Cortana works across your devices – you can complete certain notification-based tasks on your Windows or Android phone, such as receiving and sending text messages, on your PC,” said Microsoft’s Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President, Windows and Devices Group, in a blog post.

Alongside announcing new APIs for third party app integrations, the company also announced a separate app section in the Windows Store for users to find best apps to work with its personal assistant. Microsoft calls it Cortana Collection in the Windows Store.

“Developers now have full access to Cortana’s proactive intelligence through proactive actions, allowing your apps to perform tasks based on user context by linking existing actions in your deep-link enabled apps and websites,” said Myerson, speaking about the potential of third-party integrations.

Microsoft’s Cortana personal digital assistant launched couple of years back has over the years become”smart” with new feature additions and has also been unveiled for Android as well as iOS platforms. Last year, Microsoft had even claimed that Cortana for Android could replace Google Now as default assistant.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Stays Committed to Bots After Tay Debacle

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Stays Committed to Bots After Tay Debacle

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella said his company is committed to the emerging market for artificial intelligence-based chat software, one week after the company’s first Internet chat bot in the US was so manipulated by users that it had to be pulled down.

“It’s a simple concept, yet it’s very powerful,” Nadella said about the strategy the company has dubbed Conversations as a Platform. “It is about taking the power of human language and applying it more pervasively in all our computing.”

In a keynote speech Wednesday at the company’s Build conference for software developers in San Francisco, Nadella outlined Microsoft’s strategy for conversation-based products working with bots software that use artificial intelligence to automate tasks as well as tools for developers to create their own.

(Also see:  Microsoft’s Chatbot Messes Up Again on Twitter)

Nadella has been trying to expand Microsoft’s reach and influence in AI, emphasizing how the technology can augment mobile and cloud-computing products. He views the bot strategy as a key way to bring the benefits of artificial intelligence to businesses, consumers and developers. The CEO predicts such programs will dominate the next generation of computing, replacing apps in some scenarios.

On March 23, Microsoft released Tay, an online AI chat bot designed to mimic the personality of a teenager, to attract millennial users. Yet the company had to yank the program after Internet users taught it to spew racist, sexist and pornographic remarks in what the company called a “coordinated attack” that took advantage of a “critical oversight.”

In his keynote, Nadella said the company is taking a principled approach to AI in the wake of Tay’s misbehavior. “We want to build tech so it gets the best of humanity not the worst,” he said.

While looking to the future, the company also promoted upgrades to the product it has been most closely identified with for decades the Windows operating system. At Build, Windows chief Terry Myerson said Windows 10, released in July, now has 270 million active users. That’s four times the adoption pace of the much-maligned Windows 8 and 1.5 times that of the more popular Windows 7.

The Redmond, Washington-based company has pledged that Windows 10 will be on 1 billion devices within two to three years of release. Myerson also announced an update to Windows 10, coming this summer.

For the developers in the audience, Microsoft said it will make it easier to add Windows security features to their websites. By adding a few lines of code, developers can let people authenticate themselves on sites using Windows Hello, the company’s secure logon system that uses face scans and fingerprints, rather than passwords.

The company is also helping developers update their Windows programs with the ability to let people draw inside applications with a stylus. The feature, called Windows Ink, would let a hiker sketch a route on a digital map, and the device would automatically calculate the distance, for example.

Microsoft isn’t the only company pursuing bots. Facebook is opening up its Messenger app to bots that assist with shopping and appointments, and the social-media leader is expected to expand that effort in coming months. The Wall Street Journal reported in December that Google is working on bots, and the AI programs are rampant on messaging services like Slack and Telegram, among others. Tencent’s WeChat, one of the inspirations for Microsoft’s strategy, has been an early leader.

Bots will be “one of the future tenets of the mobile business,” said Michael Facemire, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. Cortana, and Microsoft’s strength with developers, will be an advantage as the software maker embarks on this strategy, he said.

Microsoft demonstrated its Skype video calling and Cortana digital assistant technology working with bots to do things like book a hotel and schedule deliveries. In one demo, Cortana popped up during a Skype chat to tell the user there was a cupcake delivery bot looking for her. It let this person, Skype executive Lilian Rincon, share her location with the bot and track the confection. During a video discussion about an upcoming conference trip, Cortana worked with a bot created for Westin because it knew Rincon had preferred status at that hotel chain.

Microsoft will also update Cortana so customers can access it without first unlocking computing devices, letting developers integrate it more easily into apps and other gadgets. That may help Microsoft or third-party hardware companies make microphones or other devices that let users ask Cortana to do things for them at home, according to Microsoft executive Yusuf Mehdi. It’d be similar to how people use Amazon Inc.’s Echo devices.

Microsoft also showed a video of an artificial intelligence program for vision-impaired customers that answered questions about food and prices on a restaurant menu using a mobile phone camera to read and voice software to speak.

Still, the Tay debacle loomed large over the proceedings. Though Microsoft plans to recommission the bot once it’s been made safer from exploitation, Gartner analyst Chris Howard said the ease and speed of Tay’s public re-programming may delay corporate adoption.

Microsoft Partners With Canonical to Bring Bash to Windows 10

Microsoft Partners With Canonical to Bring Bash to Windows 10

Microsoft is adding support for Bash Unix shell and programming language to Windows. At its developer conference Build 2016 on Wednesday, the company announced that its developers on Windows 10 will now be able to utilise Linux’s popular command line with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which is scheduled to release for free of charge to Windows 10 users in the next few months.

If you’re not a developer this major announcement, unfortunately, means almost nothing to you. But if you’re a Web developer and your favoured platform is Windows, this new functionality can make a number of things more convenient for you. Next time you come across an open source command-line utility – the one that begins with “$” – you will no longer have to resort to Linux to try it out.

As previously rumoured, at the day one of Build 2016, Microsoft announced that users can now run Bash on Ubuntu on Windows. In the simplest words, this means that you will be able to run native user-mode Linux shells and command-line tools – no porting, no changes required – on Windows.

Do note that this isn’t Bash or Ubuntu running in a virtual machine (VM), a suite that allows you to run an operating system atop another operating system as an application. Instead, Microsoft is bringing native Bash Linux binary to Windows. This will facilitate “real” Linux environment, Microsoft insists. Which means, you will be able to download apps using “apt-get” on Windows, as you do on Linux.

To summarise, as we know this news must be overwhelming to many, unlike utilities like Cygwin, a GNU command line tool that complies for Win32 with great native Windows integration, or HyperV and Ubuntu, a Linux VM, what you’re getting here is an environment that supposedly behaves like real Linux. And that is because it executes real Linux binaries.

In a blog post, Microsoft sheds some light into how it brought along all these changes, “We built new infrastructure within Windows – the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) – upon which we run a genuine Ubuntu user-mode image provided by our great partners over at Canonical, creators of Ubuntu Linux.”

Microsoft, Nasa Partner to Bring You Closer to Mars With HoloLens

Microsoft, Nasa Partner to Bring You Closer to Mars With HoloLens

The US space agency and tech giant Microsoft have teamed up to create “Destination: Mars”, a guided tour of Mars using the same HoloLens headset technology that helps scientists plan the Curiosity rover’s activities on Red Planet.

It will offer people a guided tour of an area of Mars with astronaut Buzz Aldrin this summer in an interactive exhibit using the Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headset.

“Mixed reality” means that virtual elements are merged with the user’s actual environment, creating a world in which real and virtual objects can interact.

The “Destination: Mars” exhibit will open at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex in Florida this summer, the US space agency said in a statement.

Guests will “visit” several sites on Mars, reconstructed using real imagery from Nasa’s Curiosity Mars Rover, which has been exploring the Red Planet since August 2012.

Aldrin, an Apollo 11 astronaut who walked on the moon in 1969, will serve as “holographic tour guide” on the journey.

Curiosity Mars rover driver Erisa Hines of JPL will also appear holographically, leading participants to places on Mars where scientists have made exciting discoveries and explaining what we have learned about the planet.

“This experience lets the public explore Mars in an entirely new way. To walk through the exact landscape that Curiosity is roving across puts its achievements and discoveries into beautiful context,” said Doug Ellison, visualisation producer at JPL.

“Destination: Mars” is an adaptation of OnSight, a Mars rover mission operations tool co-developed by Microsoft and JPL.

A pilot group of scientists uses OnSight in their work supporting the Curiosity Mars rover’s operations.

“We’re excited to give the public a chance to see Mars using cutting-edge technologies that help scientists plan Curiosity’s activities on Mars today,” added Jeff Norris, project manager for OnSight and “Destination: Mars”.

“While freely exploring the terrain, participants learn about processes that have shaped this alien world,” he added.

Abigail Fraeman, a Curiosity science team member at JPL, uses OnSight to make recommendations about where the rover should drive and which features to study in more detail.

Recently OnSight helped her and a colleague identify the transition point between two Martian rock formations which they would like to study in further detail.

By utilising the same technologies and datasets as OnSight, “Destination: Mars” offers participants a glimpse of Mars as seen by mission scientists.

“By connecting astronauts to experts on the ground, mixed reality could be transformational for scientific and engineering efforts in space,” Norris said.

As Nasa prepares to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, the public will now be able to preview the experience the astronauts will have as they walk and study the Martian surface.

Shadow of Mordor 2 Leaked, Possible E3 2016 Announcement?

Shadow of Mordor 2 Leaked, Possible E3 2016 Announcement?

A sequel to Shadow of Mordor, a 2014 video game based on The Lord of the Rings universe, is in the works. Its existence has been discovered on the resume of a stunt actor and it’s at this point of time, predictably called Shadow of Mordor 2.

The news comes via NerdLeaks, a site specialising in leaks about movies, TV shows, and video games. It found stunt actor Lauren Mary Kim’s resume which had a mention of the game. Specifically a line that states “Shadow of Mordor 2 – Stunts/Acting – Blur”. It probably refers to the Blur Studio which is responsible for Deadpool, and a host of CGI trailers for games like Batman Arkham Knight, Dishonored 2, and The Division.

According to the site, Kim is a stunt actor who worked numerous AAA film project like Fast & Furious 7, Transformers 4, Suicide Squad and Daredevil (TV show). She also worked for various video games CGI trailers including Bioshock Infinite, Batman Arkham Knight, Assassin’s Creed Unity, God of War Ascension, the upcoming Mafia III and now, Shadow of Mordor 2.

“Looking at her physical aspect and stunt abilities she could play the Lithariel role,” a post on the site speculates.

A follow up to Shadow of Mordor should be expected considering how well the first game did. It sold around 1.9 million copies on PC alone and a performed strongly on consoles as well. Throw in the fact the developer Monolith Productions has been working on an unannounced game and been on a hiring spree makes this all the more likely. Given that Kim’s work has been on the stunts and acting pertaining to the game, we won’t be surprised to see an E3 CGI announcement trailer for Shadow of Mordor 2. Until that happens, we can rest easy knowing one of the finer titles this generation is getting a sequel.

Lava KKT Ultra+ Union With Support for 22 Indian Languages Launched

Domestic mobile brand Lava at an event in New Delhi on Tuesday launched a feature phone with support for 22 vernacular languages. Called the Lava KKT Ultra+ Union, the feature phone has been priced at Rs. 1,500. The company claims it’s the first feature phone in India with such a wide range of languages supported, and that it has been launched under the Digital India initiative.

Seeking to address the communication gap arising from the multitude of languages in the country, the Lava KKT Ultra+ Union features support for 22 Indian languages, specifically – Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Manipuri, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. It also supports English. Users will be able to send and receive SMS messages in all 23 languages.

As for the features of the Lava KKT Ultra+ Union, the feature phone sports a 2.4-inch display, 32MB of inbuilt storage that’s expandable via microSD card (up to 32GB), and a VGA rear camera. It bears a 1750mAh battery that’s rated to deliver up to 18 hours of talk time. The feature phone also supports dual-charging, which Lava said allows it to be charged by both a thin pin charger and a USB charger.

Apart from dual-SIM support, the feature phone also offers Bluetooth, wireless FM radio capabilities, an audio/ video player, and a 3.5mm audio jack. Other Lava KKT+ Ultra Union features touted by the company include a hands-free mode and auto-redial. The feature phone will be available in Black and Grey colour variants.

The Lava KKT+ Ultra Union will be available across retail stores in the country, and comes with a 1-year manufacturer warranty, apart from six-month warranty for the bundled battery, headset, and charger.

The company at the event also revealed that its Noida manufacturing plant is currently churning out 1 million phones a month.

Commenting on the launch, Gaurav Nigam, Head Product, Lava International, said, “We at Lava are delighted to introduce KKT Ultra+ Union, a device which is in line with our company’s mission to empower people to do more and be more by making valuable technologies accessible. Through this phone we want to bridge the language barrier and enable people to express themselves in their own language with their near and dear ones across the country. The launch of the KKT Ultra+ Union is another step towards strengthening our support for the government’s Make in India and Digital India initiatives. It is a perfect phone which is Made in India and Made for India and we aim to celebrate this diversity and promote traditional regional languages in the future also.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Paid $100.5 Million for First Year at Helm

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Paid $100.5 Million for First Year at Helm

Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai received a $100.5 million (roughly Rs. 667 crores) pay package in 2015, according to a filing from parent company Alphabet Tuesday.

Pichai received $99.8 million in restricted stock that will vest in full by 2017. He also received a $652,500 salary. The stock award hasn’t previously been disclosed in filings.

The former deputy of co-founder Larry Page was named to run the search engine unit following the reorganization into a holding company last year. Following that promotion, Alphabet in February awarded him restricted shares valued at $199 million (roughly Rs. 1,321 crores), the largest grant ever given to a Google executive officer whose pay has to be reported in filings.

The two grants have brought Pichai’s holding of unvested restricted shares to $635 million (roughly Rs. 4,216) as of Monday’s close in New York, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. He also holds unvested stock options valued at $11.6 million (roughly Rs. 77 crores).

Alphabet typically grants equity awards to executives once every two years, a strategy it has said “encourages executives to take a long-term view of the business.”

Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt received $8.04 million (roughly Rs. 53 crores) for 2015, including a $1.25 million salary and $6 million (roughly Rs. 39 crores) cash bonus. Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat was awarded $31 million (roughly Rs. 205 crores), including $25.1 million (roughly Rs. 166 crores) in restricted stock.

An Alphabet spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Snapchat Ramps Up Messaging Service With 'Chat 2.0'

Snapchat Ramps Up Messaging Service With 'Chat 2.0'

Snapchat is dressing up its messaging with an upgraded video chat and animations, part of the social network’s efforts to be the preferred service for young users.

“We’re excited to introduce Chat 2.0,” the California startup announced on its blog Tuesday.

“You can start by sending a few chats, and when your friend shows up, start talking or video chatting instantly with one tap,” it said.

“Your friend can simply listen if you want to sing them a song, or watch if you have a new puppy to show them.”

The new chat platform aims for improved video chat with new features such as sending an audio note or a “sticker” chosen from a range of images similar to those on Facebook’s Messenger app.

First gaining notoriety for its disappearing messages, Snapchat has been growing rapidly to a base of some 100 million, with particular appeal to young users, as it expands its partnerships with various media organizations.

The Los Angeles-based company, which reportedly turned down a $3 billion buyout from Facebook in 2013, was valued at more than $15 billion (roughly Rs. 99,631 crores) in its latest funding round.

But it is facing competition from Facebook and others seeking to be the preferred messaging platform – that can draw users into more services and open up possibilities for advertisers.

“What we love most about the new Chat is how easily you can transition between all these ways of communicating – just like you do in person,” the Snapchat team said on the blog.

“When that’s possible, you aren’t texting, calling, or video chatting you’re just talking. We’ve been working on this redesign for a while we can’t wait to hear what you think!”

Google Fiber Phone Service Launched With Unlimited Domestic Calling

Google Fiber Phone Service Launched With Unlimited Domestic Calling

Many people can already buy TV and Internet service from Google Fiber. Now, the company that brought gigabit speeds to Austin and Kansas City is moving deeper into the telecom industry by offering its own bundled telephone service.

For $10 (roughly Rs. 660) a month, Google Fiber customers soon will be able to buy an add-on known as Fiber Phone – a service that, according to a company blog post, appears to mimic much of the functionality of Google Voice. Voicemail on Fiber Phone can be automatically transcribed and sent to your email. You’ll get unlimited domestic calling, as well as international calls at Google Voice’s rates. And you’ll have access to one phone number that can be set up to ring all of your phones – whether landline or mobile.

A series of leaked emails in January first uncovered Google Fiber’s plans to move into phone service. But now the decision is official: Fiber Phone will roll out gradually across all of the company’s existing markets. The company declined to name the initial launch markets, saying those details will come later.

The service comes with a little black box that sits beside your home phone. It has both ethernet and phone jacks, and will work with most handsets except for old rotary phones, according to Kelly Mason, a company spokesperson.

Google Fiber’s effort to draw in phone customers highlights how the company is becoming more like traditional service providers even as many telecom companies are looking to become more like Internet content firms. Even providers of cellphone service have been shifting their focus away from voice and toward the more lucrative provision of mobile data. Reports this week suggest T-Mobile may soon unveil new phone plan options that eliminate voice service entirely to give you a bigger bucket of data.

Fiber Phone fits within these trends in that it would help customers add some cloud-based functionality to their home phones. But it’s not immediately clear why consumers would pick Fiber Phone over Google Voice. The two services share many of the same features, but Fiber Phone carries a subscription cost and requires an at-home installation that you don’t need with Google Voice. In this respect, Google Voice might be considered a “better” service.

Fiber Phone could be appealing to those who currently buy their Internet and television from Google Fiber, but still have their landline phone tied to another provider, such as Verizon. Signing up for Fiber Phone would allow those Americans to eliminate one more bill from their lives and consolidate their services into a double- or triple-play deal with Google Fiber.

But federal statistics show Americans are largely moving away from landline service anyway, embracing a cellphone-only approach. Forty percent of US adults now use their cellphones exclusively.

Fiber Phone is more than a simple landline substitute, of course. But to really make the most of it, it seems like you would A) need to be already subscribed to a landline service with another provider and B) want to continue having landline service.

Apple Remains in Dark on How FBI Hacked iPhone Without Help

Apple Remains in Dark on How FBI Hacked iPhone Without Help

The FBI’s announcement that it mysteriously hacked into an iPhone is a public setback for Apple Inc., as consumers suddenly discover they can’t keep their most personal information safe. Meanwhile, Apple remains in the dark about how to restore the security of its flagship product.

The government said it was able to break into an iPhone used by a gunman in a mass shooting in California, but it didn’t say how. That puzzled Apple software engineers – and outside experts – about how the FBI broke the digital locks on the phone without Apple’s help. It also complicated Apple’s job repairing flaws that jeopardize its software.

The Justice Department’s announcement that it was dropping a legal fight to compel Apple to help it access the phone also took away any obvious legal avenues Apple might have used to learn how the FBI did it.

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym vacated her Feb. 16 order, which compelled Apple to help the FBI hack their phone, on Tuesday.

The Justice Department declined through a spokeswoman to comment Tuesday.

A few clues have emerged. A senior law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the FBI managed to defeat an Apple security feature that threatened to delete the phone’s contents if the FBI failed to enter the correct passcode combination after 10 tries. That allowed the government to repeatedly and continuously test passcodes in what’s known as a brute-force attack until the right code is entered and the phone is unlocked.

It wasn’t clear how the FBI dealt with a related Apple security feature that introduces increasing time delays between guesses. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss the technique publicly.

FBI Director James Comey has said with those features removed, the FBI could break into the phone in 26 minutes.

The FBI hacked into the iPhone used by gunman Syed Farook, who died with his wife in a gun battle with police after they killed 14 people in December in San Bernardino. The iPhone, issued to Farook by his employer, the county health department, was found in a vehicle the day after the shooting.

The FBI is reviewing information from the iPhone, and it is unclear whether anything useful can be found.

Apple said in a statement Monday that the legal case to force its cooperation “should never have been brought,” and it promised to increase the security of its products. CEO Tim Cook has said the Cupertino-based company is constantly trying to improve security for its users.

The FBI’s announcement – even without revealing precise details – that it had hacked the iPhone was at odds with the government’s firm recommendations for nearly two decades that security researchers always work cooperatively and confidentially with software manufacturers before revealing that a product might be susceptible to hackers.

The aim is to ensure that American consumers stay as safe online as possible and prevent premature disclosures that might damage a US company or the economy.

As far back as 2002, the Homeland Security Department ran a working group that included leading industry technology industry executives to advise the president on how to keep confidential discoveries by independent researchers that a company’s software could be hacked until it was already fixed. Even now, the Commerce Department has been trying to fine-tune those rules. The next meeting of a conference on the subject is April 8 in Chicago and it’s unclear how the FBI’s behavior in the current case might influence the government’s fragile relationship with technology companies or researchers.

The industry’s rules are not legally binding, but the government’s top intelligence agency said in 2014 that such vulnerabilities should be reported to companies.

“When federal agencies discover a new vulnerability in commercial and open source software – a so-called ‘zero day’ vulnerability because the developers of the vulnerable software have had zero days to fix it – it is in the national interest to responsibly disclose the vulnerability rather than to hold it for an investigative or intelligence purpose,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement in April 2014.

The statement recommended generally divulging such flaws to manufacturers “unless there is a clear national security or law enforcement need.”

Last week a team from Johns Hopkins University said they had found a security bug in Apple’s iMessage service that would allow hackers under certain circumstances to decrypt some text messages. The team reported its findings to Apple in November and published an academic paper after Apple fixed it.

“That’s the way the research community handles the situation. And that’s appropriate,” said Susan Landau, professor of cyber-security policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She said it was acceptable for the government to find a way to unlock the phone but said it should reveal its method to Apple.

Mobile phones are frequently used to improve cyber-security, for example, as a place to send a backup code to access a website or authenticate a user.

The chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, said keeping details secret about a flaw affecting millions of iPhone users “is exactly opposite the disclosure practices of the security research community. The FBI and Apple have a common goal here: to keep people safe and secure. This is the FBI prioritizing an investigation over the interests of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.”