The evolution of Clippy, Cortana’s distant relative

Everyone is familiar with a certain loveable (or love to hate, in some cases) Microsoft 97 intelligent user interface – which was the most prominent introduction to AI for a lot of people. Said interactive character went by the name of Clippy, who was our Microsoft Office assistant, wading in with his own intrusive opinion on the documents we were creating. Clippy, for better or worse, was sacrificed just after the turn of the century.

Clippy was the very first ‘customer service’ agent that we were introduced to and was way ahead of its time. It’s a now distant relative of the ground-breaking Cortana, who has machine learning driving it forward constantly. Cortana has taken Clippy’s heart and helped it rise from the ashes, becoming a much less intrusive and more helpful desktop fellow.

The big difference between why Clippy was so annoying and how Cortana can meet our needs is due to the former not being AI. Clippy wasn’t intelligent, he based his suggestions on purely what was happening in each situation – without any previous or external data to go by. Cortana differs and manages to succeed in this as it pulls in data that it’s learned through observing habits and answering the questions asked by millions of Windows 10 users across the globe. Cortana is genuine artificial intelligence fueled by machine learning.

Where Clippy was restricted to Microsoft Office products, Cortana roams free across the Windows 10 build providing a helpful hand to any user needing it.

So, where am I going with this? The point of it all is to demonstrate that Microsoft has been looking to implement an innovative desktop assistant for decades, but only through advanced machine learning and the data lake services available today can it truly be achieved. In Windows 97, our automated personal assistant didn’t work, it was reacting to what one single user was working on, and the programming was based on limited user habits data meaning it could only provide limited and often patronizing options or suggestions.

Our new glamourous assistant, however, is constantly learning with us, it’s in a continuous cycle of finding out better and better ways to do things and how it can be of more help to users. This is all because it has access to a huge stream of evolving data teaching it to become much more intelligent.

If Clippy was a business, it’s outdated data strategy can only provide the bare bones of a reactive customer service to customers, advising them on a situation based purely upon what it has observed in that solemn engagement. Cortana, the business, is able to pool data from its previous engagements, remembering what works and what doesn’t, thus providing a much more tailored and bespoke service that resonates with their customers.

It’s the process of evolution, a continual progression based on trial and error – much like all variations of machine learning. Whilst Clippy was our caveman, Cortana is the maturing adult taking its first steps into the world big data and given time will eventually become everyone’s best friend.

About the author