Making Cortana the Researcher’s Dream Assistant

Making Cortana the Researcher’s Dream Assistant

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Posted by Rob Knies

Microsoft Academic Search on Windows Phone 8.1Cortana, the personal assistant for Windows Phone 8.1, certainly has received plenty of attention since being announced in April. Her ability to make your day-to-day life easier by managing your information and keeping you up to date has made her one of the most discussed technological developments of the year.

Now, Cortana is about to get smarter—way smarter.

This fall, she will be able to point the way to a wealth of information from the academic community. Cortana is powered by Bing, and soon, that search engine will have academic data tightly integrated and prominently featured on its search pages.

The new functionality, announced July 14 during the 15th annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, represents the latest step for Microsoft Academic Search, which has been a test bed for research ideas for fields such as data mining, named-entity disambiguation, and visualization. This research project has served as a means to explore the challenges in searching for scholarly works, such as achieving author disambiguation, determining publication influence, and constructing graphs of related authors.

That service is evolving into an integrated offering within Microsoft’s services portfolio. Instead of treating scholarly information as a separate search engine—as competitors do—this information will become a first-class citizen in Bing search results.

“Microsoft Academic Search is evolving from a research project to a production effort that will leverage the full capability of Microsoft’s flagship search engine, Bing,” says Kuansan Wang, director of the Internet Services Research Center. “Since the academic audience is an important user segment and a source of innovative suggestions and feedback, we are announcing the new development during the Faculty Summit to broaden our engagements with this community.”

The addition of the academic data to Bing will make that service even more robust—and will help make Cortana the best personal assistant for researchers.

The existing Microsoft academic search and browsing experience will be transitioned gradually to a community portal in which researchers can control how much information about themselves can be discovered by others through Bing and Cortana. Additional application-programming interfaces will be added to enable universities and research institutions to contribute data searchable from either Bing or Cortana.
“The Microsoft Academic Search site,” Wang says, “will increasingly play the role for users to edit their data and influence how their information is featured on Bing and Cortana.”

Executive Presentation

Harry Shum, Microsoft executive vice president of Technology and Research, featured the new integration of scholarly information into Bing and Cortana during his opening keynote for Faculty Summit 2014.

He discussed how the Cortana Notebook, which empowers users to specify how much information they want Cortana to track for them, will gain an “academic” theme. When activated, it will use Bing to discover and alert users about academic events such as conference agendas and paper due dates, tailored to a user’s interests.

Shum also announced a breakthrough in speech-recognition technology, achieved through use of Bing, that enables Cortana to recognize more than a billion words in multiple languages that often are mixed in a single utterance. Users can speak uncommon words in a query, instead of typing on a tiny keyboard.

These advances represent a leap forward in support for researchers.

“By growing Microsoft Academic Search from a research effort to production,” Wang says, “our goal is to make Bing-powered Cortana the best personal research assistant for our users while augmenting the previous site as Microsoft Research’s social and outreach portal for the research community.”

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  • This looks interesting, but the link to the Microsoft Academic search takes many seconds (over 20) to load. A search (for example click on Eric Lander) similarly takes an absurdly long time. Please fix this latency.

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