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Microsoft injects Cortana with AI so she can organize your meetings for you

Today’s digital assistants, whether Apple’s Siri, Google Now, or Microsoft’s Cortana, are constantly evolving to provide more ways to make our lives simpler and more manageable. And in some cases, new capabilities can be turned on at the server, giving us new functionality without needing to update our devices.

One of Cortana’s key strengths is how Microsoft continuously adds new integrations with other applications and operating systems. The company often creates specific projects aimed at extending Cortana’s capabilities, and the Microsoft Office blog has announced the latest one — artificial intelligence aimed at making scheduling meetings more efficient.

More: Which virtual assistant would you hire? Cortana vs. Siri vs. Google Now

The project is code-named Calendar.help, and it’s a Microsoft incubation effort that applies AI technology — gained when the company acquired startup Genee in August 2016 — to Outlook calendars. The Microsoft Research team is heading up the project, which enables Cortana to work in the background to parse information in outgoing emails and then add them to your calendar with some intelligence.

To check out Calendar.help, you first need to sign up for the preview waitlist. Once you’re accepted, you will be asked to provide permissions to the service to access your email and calendar. Cortana will then work in the background on any email where you add her to the cc: line, looking for references to meeting length, timing, and location.

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When she finds those sorts of references, Cortana will then propose times directly to attendees included in the email without bothering you with additional emails. When all attendees have confirmed a time, Cortana will then create an event in your calendar and issue invites to the attendees. Microsoft touts the conversational nature of the interactions, which makes it seem like an actual human assistant — and not a digital assistant — is doing the organizing.

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Today’s digital assistants are evolving into one of the primary ways that machine intelligence is being integrated directly into our personal and professionals lives. With projects like Calendar.help, Microsoft is extending Cortana beyond our own devices and into our interactions with other people.