Steve Ballmer wanted Microsoft’s Cortana AI to be called “Bingo” so it would be more Microsoft-branded, according to the Big Bets newsletter. That’s according to former Microsoft product manager Sandeep Paruchuri, who recounted the story of how Microsoft’s AI assistant got its name to writer Alice Newton Rex as part of a deep dive into Cortana’s origins.
While we’ve gotten a pretty good idea of Microsoft’s ambitious vision for the AI assistant in the years since it leaked then launched, Paruchuri and Rex gave the inside story of how Cortana was named, pitched to management, and the clash that happened between dreams and reality. Also included are interesting details about how the assistant became one of the main advertising points for the doomed Windows Phone platform.
Cortana was supposed to be a code name, but it stuck
The article is a good reminder of the fun origin story behind the assistant being branded as “Cortana” — the name was taken from the Halo character (who is also an AI, which isn’t confusing at all) and was only supposed to be used during development. It was actually supposed to be called Alyx, according to Paruchuri, but when the name leaked, Halo fans and tech writers were so frenzied that Microsoft decided to officially dub the feature as Cortana.
While not every part of the AI’s story is as interesting as Ballmer’s idea to name it after Microsoft’s much-beloved search engine (which he came up with during his handoff of power to current CEO Satya Nadella), the newsletter is still an interesting read if you’re interested in Cortana’s history or are looking for tips on how not to name your product.