Microsoft patent for Cortana email summarySource: Microsoft/USPTO

What you need to know

  • A Microsoft patent imagines a smarter future for how Cortana handles emails and messages.
  • The patent describes methods for a digital assistant to read and summarize the important points your emails for you.
  • This would allow the digital assistant to give you the salient portions of emails when you can't otherwise look at a screen to read them yourself.

A newly unearthed Microsoft patent (via Windows United) would make perusing your emails and messages on the go a whole lot easier. Designed for digital assistants, the patent describes a way for them to seek out the most important bits of information from your inbox, summarize them, and read them to you in a way that's easy to digest.

From the patent's abstract:

The messages are from one or more message sources and each message comprising message data that includes text. The method further includes operations for analyzing the message data to determine a meaning of each message, for generating a score for each message on the respective message data and the meaning of the message, and for generating a textual summary for the message based on the message scores and the meaning of the messages.

Once the summary is generated, it can then be played back on a speaker or headset and dealt with through a prompt. The main thrust here is to make email much easier to consume when you can't look at a screen. As an example, Microsoft imagines someone jogging and using an assistant through their earbuds to listen to incoming emails and messages and manage them.

The patent fits in with the new work-focused nature of Cortana and Microsoft's focus on AI in general. The company has shifted Cortana from competing with Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa in a consumer-facing sense. Rather, the company is now tapping the intelligence that undergirds Cortana to create more intelligent systems for more business and behind-the-scenes tasks.

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While this move has meant some undesirable outcomes for Cortana as we know it on mobile devices, Microsoft has been vocal in how it sees Cortana's transformation into the backbone of its productivity efforts. This is highlighted in some new capabilities Microsoft is currently testing with Windows Insiders. Still, it's a major shift that has already ruffled some feathers among those who would like to see Cortana compete more directly with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa in the consumer speaker space.