In the battle of the virtual assistants, Microsoft’s Cortana just scored. The company today is rolling out new functionality that will allow the assistant to remind you about things you haven’t explicitly told her to track. Specifically, Cortana will now be able to help you remember items you’ve promised to do in your emails, by popping up reminder suggestions.
This suggested reminders functionality was first announced a year ago, and was developed in conjunction with Microsoft’s Research division. It works thanks to machine learning, which involves having Cortana scan your emails in order to generate its timely suggestions of tasks – something it does only with users’ permission, of course.
The scans themselves are performed locally, Microsoft previously said. The reminder details are only sent to Microsoft’s servers, once a user agrees to have a reminder set.
Instead of only looking for sentences where you’ve specified a particular time (like 6 PM, e.g.), Cortana is also able to understand the sort of language we use when making time commitment promises. For instance, it can pick up phrases like “end of the day” or even abbreviations like “EOW.”
To use the feature, Microsoft says you only need to keep emailing as you normally do. Cortana will just kick in when it sees you’ve made some sort promise. When you’ve specified your deadline, Cortana will alert you ahead of its due date, and save it in the action center. Other suggested reminders will also appear in the Cortana home, Microsoft notes.
Users in the Windows Insider program have been able to test these proactive reminders ahead of today’s public launch. During this trial period, Microsoft added some enhancements, the company says. For example, it now links to the email the reminder is coming from and sends notifications ahead of the deadline. It’s also better at understanding your emails so the suggestions are more accurate.
Suggested reminders are live now in the U.S. on Windows 10, with iOS and Android support arriving in the “coming weeks.” Both Outlook.com and Office 365 work and school email addresses are currently supported, but other email services will be added in the future.