Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called the first wave of voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and its own Cortana “dumb as a rock,” in an interview with the Financial Times.
Nadella who raved about the voice assistants in 2016 saying “bots are the new apps,” has changed his tune since then, the FT reported.
“They were all dumb as a rock,” he told the newspaper last month. “Whether it’s Cortana or Alexa or Google Assistant or Siri, all these just don’t work. We had a product that was supposed to be the new front-end to a lot of [information] that didn’t work.”
Microsoft launched Cortana in 2014 and it functioned as a virtual productivity assistant that could respond to prompts, organize daily meetings, and create reminders amongst other features. But Microsoft was hampered by its poor progress in smartphones and, unlike Apple and Google, had to rely more on third parties to integrate Cortana. According to Insider Intelligence analysis in 2018, just 2% of global consumers said they used Cortana as their primary voice assistant.
Microsoft discontinued the use of the app on Android and iOS in 2021 and Nadella said at the time he no longer saw the product as a competitor to Alexa or Google Assistant, per The Verge.
Alexa has also struggled. Amazon’s “Worldwide Digital” unit, which covers everything from its Echo smart speakers, Alexa voice technology, and Prime Video streaming service, had an operating loss of over $3 billion in the first quarter of 2022, according to internal data obtained by Insider’s Eugene Kim. The majority of these losses were associated with its Alexa device, Kim wrote.
The company also laid off 10,000 employees who primarily worked on Alexa’s voice technology team in November.
Apple’s Siri likewise falls short of expectations, with frustrated iOS users on Reddit asking everything from “Why is Siri so stupid” to “is Siri getting dumber each year.”
But Nadella’s comments come as excitement around generative AI has reached a fever pitch since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November. The conversational chatbot, based on OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 language model, has displayed an impressive array of skills including writing essays, songs, cover letters, and even coding — albeit it is prone to “hallucinating” and errors.
It became the fastest-growing app in internet history after gaining 100 million users in just two months.
Siri’s co-creator Adam Cheyer told the FT that ChatGPT’s ability to understand complex information makes existing voice assistants look stupid, saying “the previous capabilities have just been too awkward.”
Microsoft has cashed in on the hype by pouring as much as $10 billion into ChatGPT’s parent company OpenAI — it already invested $1 billion in the company in 2019.
The tech giant also unveiled its”new Bing” search engine that was created in collaboration with OpenAI; Microsoft claimed it’s “more powerful than ChatGPT.”
The new Bing displays ChatGPT-like skills including writing personalized emails, translating texts in over a hundred languages, and making recommendations when shopping online.