Microsoft wants you to respect Cortana as if she were a real person. Out of the three major virtual assistants — Microsoft Cortana, Google Now, and Apple Siri — Cortana is arguably has the most personality. Not only does she frequently talk back with recorded responses (not just from a speech engine like most assistants), Cortana is programmed to react with disdain when met with disrespectful prompts, according to her developers.


“If you say things that are particularly asshole-ish to Cortana, she will get mad.

That’s not the kind of interaction we want to encourage,

We wanted to be very careful that she didn’t feel subservient in any way ... or that we would set up a dynamic we didn’t want to perpetuate socially,”

-Deborah Harrison, Microsoft

Of course, Cortana is just a terminal for Microsoft’s data algorithms and doesn’t have any awareness of her own, but it’s interesting to see Microsoft go out of its way to influence how an end user interacts with a simulated intelligence. Not everyone agrees, of course. An editorial at The Next Web argues that Cortana is a just a tool and Microsoft need not apply morality where it is not necessary yet.


“Cortana might have a voice and a ‘personality’ but it is not sentient, it cannot think, it cannot be offended (unless programmed), so to take the step of deciding what users should or shouldn’t be able to yell at their inanimate objects is stepping over a line that Microsoft shouldn’t cross.

You could certainly make the argument that ‘allowing’ people to interact with Cortana in a certain way sets a precedent for when sentient AI is truly upon us, but this isn’t even close to happening”

- Ben Woods, The Next Web

Another element comes into play when you consider that the most used virtual assistants have female voice by default. Do people harass virtual assistants with male voices? I am reminded of Annalee’s rather controversial editorial on why so many developers default to female voices on virtual assistants and how the very idea of virtual assistants leads to something that’s tantamount to slavery. While many readers took offense to Annalee’s points, it seems like Cortana’s caretakers share her views somewhat.