Halo actress Jen Taylor to voice Windows Phone's Cortana [Update]

Prior to Microsoft's official confirmation of its Cortana digital assistant for Windows Phone 8.1 today, rumors swirled about who would voice it. Now it's been confirmed Jen Taylor, voice of Cortana's namesake in the Halo franchise, will lend her skills to the assistant.

Microsoft provided the following statement to Neowin regarding Taylor's voice being used in the digital assistant: "[The] Cortana beta synthesizes voices from more than one source, Jen Taylor being one of them. Over time, we plan to employ Jen Taylor’s voice throughout a greater portion of the experience."

Cortana's unveiling follows a public petition for Microsoft to keep the Cortana name, which was previously used for internal purposes, that garnered more than 83,000 votes. Similar petitions were made for Microsoft to contract Taylor as the assistant's voice, and a rumor surfaced in January that she would indeed lend her talents to the feature. Other aspects of the rumor, such as launching initially as a beta for U.S. users, were also confirmed by Microsoft.

In conjunction with today's BUILD 2014 developer conference, Microsoft has released the first promotional video of Cortana, seen above, at the end of which Taylor's voice can be heard. 

Cortana is rumored to come to both Windows and Xbox One at some point in the future, meaning Taylor could potentially lend her voice to a game on Microsoft's console as well as the operating system itself. Microsoft has yet to confirm the digital assistant for other platforms, however.

Update: Taylor shared her excitement to be the digital assistant's voice with the following tweet: 

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I noticed the speech recognition on my Lumia 920 has greatly improved recently. It never flubs anymore, and even understands what I say when I talk really fast it's awesome!

<3 JEN TAYLORRRR

I think they will be using all the voice patterns they can get from the Kinect from all over the world and keep improving the voice recognition database.

Cortana is a great name. Master Chef says it all the time on Halo and doesn't have a problem rolling it off his tongue.

Maybe I should have worded my comment differently. It is not a particularly hard word too say. I should have said it is not one of those names that you can easily associate with a product. Remember, I am talking about the regular consumer. History shows that Microsoft isn't good at choosing names that are marketable. I guess we'll see how this one turns out.

Well, at least it's better than "TellMe" or "Microsoft Mobile Voice Integrated Personal Assistant Professional 2014." To be honest, I never really liked the name Siri either but Google Now is a pretty good name.

Enron said,
Well, at least it's better than "TellMe" or "Microsoft Mobile Voice Integrated Personal Assistant Professional 2014." To be honest, I never really liked the name Siri either but Google Now is a pretty good name.
True

Maybe I should have worded my comment differently. It is not a particularly hard word too say. I should have said it is not one of those names that you can easily associate with a product.

Cortana is reasonable since the audience of the Halo franchise has some amount of disposable income for purchase of hardware and software and therefore is a good demographic target for additional purchases. The name is established well in media, and there are not so many hairy legal/trademark issues that might arise from picking a more generic sounding name.

Cortana is rumored to come to both Windows and Xbox One at some point in the future, meaning Taylor could potentially lend her voice to a game on Microsoft's console as well as the operating system itself.

I find that to be cool. Windows Phone 8.1 is shaping up to be really nice and I may just ditch the iPhone for good this time.

This is the coolest 'small thing' MS has done for it's fans. By small thing I mean call it Cortana and use her voice.

Let's just hope she doesn't notify us about the Covenant attacking the earth!

Really looking forward to trying it

What a creepy part in the video "now I'm learning about you". Gave me the shivers in the wrong way. Looks like Hal

londan said,
Really looking forward to trying it

What a creepy part in the video "now I'm learning about you". Gave me the shivers in the wrong way. Looks like Hal

They had a HAL joke in the keynote btw.

yup, specially, since that "now I'm learning about you" quote was followed by a girl pushing another girl into a locker... the video kinda reminded me of Ultron from Avengers: Earth's mightiest heroes, the only way to achieve peace is to eradicate humanity. that quote and that video very omnious.

That being said. I loved the keynote, i wish they would bring cortana to windows. I hope you can make cortana call you "chief"

londan said,
Really looking forward to trying it

What a creepy part in the video "now I'm learning about you". Gave me the shivers in the wrong way. Looks like Hal

Yeah - odd video really.

neko_designer said,
I hope you can make cortana call you "chief"

That's exactly where the "now I'm learning about you" part comes in. That's the start of the wizard where you provide a name for Cortana to call you.

ditoax said,
Microsoft are really in a 'let's do everything the public wants!' mode.

Yes and no...

Microsoft got rid of some bad people that messed up the convergence of their technologies. For example, there was a lot about WinRT and Windows 8 that should never have been made 'purposely' different from WP8 when there was no reason to do so. (Sinofsky *cough*)

This is where the new CEO and people like Joe B. are making a lot of changes so that things are the same across all devices and hardware. Windows if finally hitting the old Bill G vision of being the same everywhere.

If you look back to even Q4 2013, WP 8.1's framework was to about 80% identical to WinRT/Win8. However, the 'unified' push at Microsoft has brought this to closer to 90% with a truly common code base on both WP8.1 and Win8.1. This is faster and more than expected at this point.

The next thing to remember is that the platform changes over the past few years have been a heavy lift. This includes DirectX, the frameworks like WinRT, etc.

Right now, the platforms and technologies are becoming one and have hit the maturity where they can expand on them as the heavy lift is done.

This makes it easier to focus on more optimization like DX12 and unified applications and end user features. Which as you note, let's them give users/developers things they have been wanting.

I think this is purely due to community feedback, I can't imagine Microsoft had this planned from the start.

Aergan said,
I think this is purely due to community feedback, I can't imagine Microsoft had this planned from the start.

No complaints here, I don't think anyone has a problem with this.

George P said,

No complaints here, I don't think anyone has a problem with this.


Her voice is fine for the U.S. English market, but it's off the table for en-GB/en-AU users, and frankly, the name 'Cortana' is a phonetically awful name to go international with, so that's likely to change in other regions, too.

Pretty sure the people working on this were just as enthusiastic about this as fans, but they hardly make any decisions. The people who do however were probably didn't know about this until the last minute, and then of course popular demand forced them to look into all the legalities and technicalities of it and if it was even possible or not. Well looks they made it happen for us.

Aergan said,
I think this is purely due to community feedback, I can't imagine Microsoft had this planned from the start.

Anything is possible. Those still standing at MS after the reorg and the recent reshuffling under Nadella may be taking a different approach to choice like this then before.

I do think they took feedback into account though. It seems like they are actively trying to apply feedback across all of their products.

Joshie said,

Her voice is fine for the U.S. English market, but it's off the table for en-GB/en-AU users, and frankly, the name 'Cortana' is a phonetically awful name to go international with, so that's likely to change in other regions, too.

I hope you're right. I certainly don't want my phone talking at me with an American accent and Cortana is a pretty awful name. It reminds me of an old car called a Cortina.

Joshie said,

Her voice is fine for the U.S. English market, but it's off the table for en-GB/en-AU users, and frankly, the name 'Cortana' is a phonetically awful name to go international with, so that's likely to change in other regions, too.

I don't know about the voice, Siri sounds the same all over doesn't it? As far as the name, maybe they'll allow you to change it later, or not. You don't actually have to say her name, just hit the button and start talking.

jakem1 said,

I hope you're right. I certainly don't want my phone talking at me with an American accent and Cortana is a pretty awful name. It reminds me of an old car called a Cortina.

Well, unfortunately, it'll probably be Cortana by default in English-speaking cultures, but I've seen every indication that it'll be something you can personalize. But even for myself, as an American, I think it's a poor name. But as far as accents are concerned, it would be an embarrassment for a company at Microsoft's level not to properly localize the voice synthesis. Apple and Google both have properly localized voices for non-American English-speaking regions.

George P said,

I don't know about the voice, Siri sounds the same all over doesn't it? As far as the name, maybe they'll allow you to change it later, or not. You don't actually have to say her name, just hit the button and start talking.

Actually Siri changes all over. It was discussed early on the fact that UK English users even had a male voice available for Siri. Honestly, I just don't get why text-to-speech is female-only in so many products from so many companies in the US. Half the time it sounds like a harpy.

George P said,
I don't know about the voice, Siri sounds the same all over doesn't it?

Nope, Siri uses different voices to suit different areas. In some parts of the world it even has a male voice!

Cortana on my phone is cool and all but can she really compete with siri.... I doubt they will have her ready with enough features.

Did you even watch the conference? It does everything siri does and everything google now does PLUS interact with 3rd party apps. They did a live demonstration of it.

tytytucke said,
Cortana on my phone is cool and all but can she really compete with siri.... I doubt they will have her ready with enough features.

If you are talking about "witty comments" then maybe not. But Google Now blows Siri out of the water with voice recognition and usability so I think Cortana will be better than Siri. And seeing the preview of it today, it looks pretty awesome! =)

tytytucke said,
Cortana on my phone is cool and all but can she really compete with siri.... I doubt they will have her ready with enough features.

apparently its best of both worlds it does the best of siri and google now.

Scabrat said,

If you are talking about "witty comments" then maybe not.

We won't know for sure until we get our hands on it but the leaked SDK included some pretty witty responses for Cortana and using wanna, gotta etc. And like we saw in todays demo, the "I'm absorbing the internet", her response about her look, understanding Joe when he said yup instead of yes, I'm betting she will be just as witty as the Cortana in Halo series. And this is Microsoft we're talking about, they love their Easter eggs. Pretty sure she's gonna be way more fun than either Siri or Google Now.

tytytucke said,
Cortana on my phone is cool and all but can she really compete with siri.... I doubt they will have her ready with enough features.

Well, she will need to grow, and is designed to grow automatically, which is quite brilliant.

However, starting out, Cortana has a lot more functionality and features than Siri or Google Now.

Cortana is more than just a 'voice' assistant, she is design as a personal assistant that doesn't even require voice. This means that suggestions, reminders and information from Cortana appears throughout the OS and Apps.

Go watch the demo Joe B. did, it is a limited demo, but demonstrates that Cortana is not just a voice interface or should be compared to voice interface competitors like Siri/Google Now.

As for pure 'information' retrieval, she uses Bing and the new Bing aggregate technologies. This gives her an advantage over Siri. (Remember that Siri also depends on Bing, but uses Apple's criteria subset.)


Mobius Enigma said,

Thanks for that interesting summary. (better than the above article) When I get a chance I will check out the demo.