Amazon, Microsoft will make Alexa and Cortana cross-communicate

The CEO of a third-party developer said that the arrangement is a good thing overall, particularly if it leads to standards that also enable Google and Apple voice technologies to talk to each other.
By Tom Sullivan
12:56 PM
Alexa and Cortana communicate

With early adopter hospitals already conducting pilots or proof-of-concept testing artificial intelligence voice technologies, Amazon and Microsoft said on Wednesday that they will collaborate to make Alexa and Cortana interact.

Those first-moving healthcare providers include Penn Medicine and Commonwealth Care Alliance. CCA’s chief of clinical innovation John Loughnane, MD, has said that healthcare is even riper than other industries when it comes to voice technologies because of the potential to improve care delivery, streamline processes and enhance the patient experience.

[Also: Hospitals forging patient experience of the future with voice AI technologies]

The new partnership, of course, is targeted at multiple sectors and consumers. Amazon and Microsoft highlighted the different capabilities each AI voice assistant brings to the arrangement. Alexa, for instance, can be used to control smart devices in people’s homes, tap into some 20,000 so-called skills third-parties have already developed and, of course, either purchase products from Amazon or access services such as news, music or messaging.

Alexa users will be able to vocally ask the device to launch Cortana and vice versa. Cortana, for its part, can be used to book meetings, access work calendars, receive reminders about medications, and access email via voice functionality.

Penn and CCA have already conducted early work using Alexa and Amazon’s Echo Dot.

Penn is developing a pair of prototypes and, if all goes according to plan, will make one skill available to the public, while CCA is investigating ways to improve the patient experience. That involves creating individualized care based on the ability to ask Alexa when home health aids are scheduled to come, inquire about wait times and book appointments, and line up transportation to get there.

Exactly what will come out of those early projects remains to be seen — as does whatever impact Amazon and Microsoft enabling Alexa and Cortana to talk to each other will have on healthcare.

“Overall it is a good thing,” said Nate Treloar, CEO or Orbita, a voice collaboration company that provides connectivity and orchestration enabling apps to run on Alexa. “We've used the browser wars analogy and while it's not a perfect example, standards emerged that allowed better interoperation in the Web and mobile worlds.”

The remaining question now is whether the Microsoft and Amazon arrangement will spark standards work that ultimately enables Apple’s Siri and Google’s voice AI all to communicate with each other as well. 

Twitter: SullyHIT
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