Microsoft has a Siri competitor called Cortana that will launch later this year on 8.1 devices. Cortana is a digital assistant that developers are currently hardcoding to study human preferences and habits that build profiles based on individual desires. Cortana is a smartphone assistant that will be contextually dependent instead of developer dependent. Right now, computers are very literal, however, we are beginning to program them to be contextual.
Cortana understands what you care about. She won’t just listen to you but she’ll understand and be aware of everything from your location to your interests. For example, she will not interrupt you during quiet time, except for the people that are important to you. Applications integrated with Cortana could access your calendar and GPS to determine you are in the airport for a flight and display departure info and your boarding passes when you unlock your phone.
The big shift that is occurring is instead of humans having to communicate with computers in a way that the computer understand, humans will be able to communicate with computers like they do with other humans and the computer will understand.
Since your phone is with you all the time and you use it for everything and anything, the big thing that was missing is context. Don’t get me wrong – all sorts of new interfaces will end up in your phone even if you don’t need them. The Samsung Galaxy S5 has a heart rate monitor for example. In terms of computing, contextual awareness is an idea that computers can both sense and react based on the surrounding environment and other known information. Very similar to the way human brains interpret various stimuli. Soon, Windows will be opening up interfaces to this platform so that third parties can interface to it as well.
This whole realm of contextual programming is difficult but very useful. Humans always operate in a contextual framework, computers, as of yet, do not. This is just another shift that is happening in technology along with new input types such as voice and motion that allow developers to select from a broader range of input types based on the specific need.
Cities are technically “hard coded” but what if cities could be contextual? What if there were automatic systems for traffic flows so that they could actually influence traffic? The “Internet of Things” often referred to as the smart grid is already making our lives easier by connecting all the pieces with networking technology and applying advanced strategies to better understand how the various pieces can work together. In the case of city road the pieces are you and your car and even knowledge of not only where you are but where you are trying to go, your driving habits, probability that you will need to stop for fuel, stop to eat, and – you get the point.
Traditionally a response to traffic would be build new roads or expand metropolitan transit, yet smart technology aims to predict congestion before they occur and manage traffic accordingly to prevent a jam. Smarter traffic systems could help emergency vehicles reach the scene of the accident as efficiently and quickly as possible. Even without reworking the existing roads a smart traffic system could accomplish a lot by better synchronizing stop lights change the time lights are red, optionally control turn signals, notify users via mobile apps or in dash GPS, ….
We are moving in the right direction with contextual awareness, advancements of different types of input devices and removing unnecessary steps. The next generation of computing will soon be defined by how we live our lives, adapting and improving our livelihood.