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Meet Louise, Microsoft’s digital assistant before Cortana

Meet Louise, Microsoft’s digital assistant before Cortana


Redmond's research team imagined Cortana years ago

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Cortana may have only debuted with Windows Phone 8.1 recently, but Microsoft has been experimenting with personal digital assistants for years. In newly released videos, the software maker has detailed Project Louise, an automated personal assistant that started life back in 2010. Many of the features that Cortana performs on Windows Phone were present in the prototype versions of Louise, including the ability to control calendar events and search for nearby restaurants.

There’s even a hint at how Cortana may debut in Windows 8, with a restaurant booking demo of Louise on a Windows 8 tablet. While Louise was clearly a codename for what has become Cortana, Microsoft did consider Alyx and Naomi as final names for the digital assistant. Project Louise was developed by Microsoft’s Research team, and specifically under the guidance of Larry Heck, chief scientist for the speech at Microsoft group at the time. Heck oversaw Microsoft’s Tellme speech technologies, and the group had big plans in a concept video for the future of digital assistants across Windows and Xbox. Some of those features have made it into Cortana, but Microsoft’s personal digital assistant isn’t available across Windows and Xbox to complete the prototype scenario.

It’s not clear if and when Cortana will debut on other Microsoft products, but Cortana program manager Marcus Ash recently revealed the team is currently designing passive voice activation for the Windows Phone version. Microsoft is also planning to bring Cortana to the Windows Phone 8.1 in the UK and China in the coming months.