Microsoft Mapping Course to a Jetsons-Style Future

Meet Laura, the virtual personal assistant for those of us who cannot afford a human one.

Built by researchers at Microsoft, Laura appears as a talking head on a screen. You can speak to her and ask her to handle basic tasks like booking appointments for meetings or scheduling a flight.

More compelling, however, is Laura’s ability to make sophisticated decisions about the people in front of her, judging things like their attire, whether they seem impatient, their importance and their preferred times for appointments.

Instead of being a relatively dumb terminal, Laura represents a nuanced attempt to recreate the finer aspects of a relationship that can develop between an executive and an assistant over the course of many years.

“What we’re after is common sense about etiquette and what people want,” said Eric Horvitz, a researcher at Microsoft who specializes in machine learning.

Microsoft wants to put a Laura on the desk of every person who has ever dreamed of having a personal aide. Laura and other devices like her stand as Microsoft’s potential path for diversifying beyond the personal computer, sales of which are stagnating.

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