Microsoft’s CEO admits voice assistants like Cortana are “dumb as a rock”

In 2014, the e-commerce and tech behemoth Amazon launched Alexa and set in train a trend for speech interfaces in households – voice assistants that would control household devices and tell jokes.

Almost a decade after their mainstream introduction, voice assistants are not where they were supposed to be.

Echo smart speakers and Alexa voice assistant account for the majority of losses Amazon suffered in 2022.

Cortana, Microsoft’s attempt at a me-too technology nobody really wanted, was phased out of Windows in its latest edition.

Going forward, it won’t be built into IoT devices; however, not many devices have it in the first place.

When asked by the Financial Times, Amazon and Microsoft talk about the fate of voice assistants and their plans with the technology.

Under new chief executive Andy Jassy’s tenure, Amazon has shifted focus toward how to use these technologies to help the global e-commerce giant make more money.

An Amazon official told FT they are “as optimistic as ever” about Alexa and that “more than 50% of Alexa customers are now using it to shop.”

But the direct value of these interactions to Amazon appears unfavorable. Amazon reportedly hit operating losses worth over $3 billion (1).

With executives scrutinizing the contribution of voice assistants to the company’s bottom line, Amazon laid off 18000 employees, with most from the Alexa team (2).

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella declared in 2016 that “bots are the new apps.”

Cortana, however, did not live up to the hype. In Windows 10, it lost the ability to do most of the expected voice assistant things, i.e., turn lights on and off, play music, etc. Windows 11 saw Cortana all but cease to exist as we knew it.

“They were all dumb as a rock,” Nadella told the Financial Times. He added that voice assistants would not work, whether it was Alexa, Cortana, or Google.

The Microsoft boss can afford to be blunt with his observation. With ChatGPT’s ability to understand natural language and respond to queries, voice assistants were left looking stupid.

Microsoft has switched strategies and is not focusing on generative conversational AI programs like Bing Search, hoping it will achieve the accolades Cortana didn’t. Whether the new Bing Search will be successful remains to be seen.

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