Microsoft launches an AI-powered calendar for Cortana

Microsoft has made great strides to simplify scheduling in the business world. Just a few months ago, the tech giant began packaging Bookings along with Office 365 as a plug-and-play service for small companies to invite customers to schedule appointments through an online portal. Now, Microsoft has added another revolutionary service that puts a friendly personal assistant in every user’s inbox — even if you’re a G Suite user!

Scheduling appointments is a pain. Up until now, there weren’t many ways to go about it other than just lobbing possible dates and times across the web until one of them sticks. For decades, those who could hire receptionists and personal assistants exempted themselves from this tedium, and Microsoft believes it has finally found a way to make that possible for everyone.

Your new scheduler, Cortana

What really makes this new service shine is the polished exterior that hides the slick technology wrapped inside. Whenever you need to make a new appointment over email, add the recipient as normal, and just enter Cortana in the Cc: field. Include conversational cues about what you’re looking for, something along the lines of “Chelsea, could we meet for an hour next week about the Damson account? I’d prefer my office, but yours is fine too.”

From then on, Cortana starts a separate conversation just with Chelsea until the two of them have set a date, time, and location. Cortana will send messages in plain English based on the information you provided in the original message, no different from how a human receptionist would. And when Chelsea has OK’ed an appointment, you’ll get a notification and the event will automatically be added to your calendar.

How does she do it?

Cortana employs the same machine learning that powers all Office 365’s services to both digest and interpret your scheduling preferences as well as the responses of recipients. Chelsea doesn’t need to respond with specific syntax or language: “Hey Cortana, I’m pretty busy Monday and Tuesday, what about Wednesday?” is enough to prompt the service to suggest times that are available on your Wednesday schedule. It’s not so much like interacting with a computer program as it is like interacting with a shy and uninitiated assistant. The longer you work with it, the more comfortable it gets.

Any time you make an appointment request that doesn’t contain a certain cue (e.g., location information), Cortana can be programmed to automatically fill in the blanks (for location information she might assume your office). And when recipients don’t respond to Cortana’s initial requests, she’ll hound them with reminders until they do.

Not just for Microsoft users

Combining Cortana, your calendar, and machine learning is one of those ideas that as soon as you hear it you wonder why no one thought of it sooner. It just seems to make sense. But there was one detail included in the announcement that did manage to catch us off guard: Calendar.help will work with Office 365, Outlook.com… and G Suite calendars.

Calendar.help exemplifies one of Cortana’s biggest selling points by totally eliminating the need to download anything to access this service. Everything is handled over email, and just by listing Cortana in the Cc: field you provide the service with all the information it needs. At the moment, Calendar.help is just an incubation project, but users can sign up for a preview here.

Today’s article is a great example of why it’s so important to keep checking in with Damson Cloud. Incubation projects like Calendar.help don’t get a lot of airtime — even among cloud blogs and publications — but they’re one of our favorite topics to cover on this blog. If you want to be on the front lines of cloud innovation, you need a team of trustworthy experts on your side. Get in touch with us today.