Is Bill Gates’ “Personal Agent” a Cortana replacement?

Bill Gates has announced he’s returning to Microsoft to work on a new AI project, dubbed Personal Agent, which sounds an awful lot like the next iteration of Cortana.

Is Bill Gates'

Speaking during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session, Gates said Personal Agent “will remember everything and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to”.

“The idea that you have to find applications and pick them and they each are trying to tell you what is new is just not the efficient model – the agent will help solve this,” he added.


Gates also said Personal Agent will work across all devices, although he didn’t specify whether this meant all platforms or just Windows devices.

While some Redditors joked it sounded like the infamous Clippy from earlier versions of Windows, like PC Pro, many noticed the project sounds rather like an advanced version of Windows 10’s virtual personal assistant, Cortana.

Each iteration of Windows 10 Technical Preview has seen greater integration of Cortana. In the latest build, 9926, she can learn about users over time in order to anticipate information they might want, as well as bring together information from disparate applications and sources to make it more relevant and accessible to the user – or at least that’s what Joe Belfiore, corporate VP of the Operating Systems Group in Microsoft, claimed during his presentation.

Windows 10 HoloLens

Gates also said he thinks HoloLens, Microsoft’s newly announced Augmented Reality headset, is “pretty amazing” claiming it is the start of virtual reality (we’re not sure what the guys at Oculus and Samsung would make of this).


“Making the device so you don’t get dizzy or nauseous is really hard – the speed of the alignment has to be super super fast,” he admitted. “It will take a few years of software applications being built to realise the full promise of this.”


In some ways, it’s hard to know what to make of Gates’ pronouncements during the AMA. On the one hand, we wouldn’t bet against one of the most successful tech entrepreneurs in the world, but on the other what he’s talking about is very advanced – and, in my opinion, a little disconcerting. AI is an area I’m really interested in, and in many ways I’m enthusiastic about it, but I think within the next 30 years (or even less), we’re going to come up against some very hard questions about how advanced we should let this technology get, and what happens to our jobs when they are taken by more efficient, and less costly, robots. We’re on the cusp of a new era, and it’s hard to imagine what will really come next, but a revolution is coming and we can’t get away from that.

As for AR, I think Gates is spot-on, not so much that Microsoft’s headgear is “the start of virtual reality”, but that this tech is coming into the mainstream and that “holovisors” like the HoloLens could spur adaption amongst those who currently can’t use it due to motion sickness. I look forward to testing it out in real life!

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