Amazon’s Alexa’s failure demonstrates why Microsoft was right to remove Cortana


Microsoft Cortana, you were a stranger to us.

With layoffs already occurring at a number of large corporations and predictions of a global recession, 2023 is shaping up to be a challenging year for the technology sector. A perfect economic storm that is affecting almost everyone is being fueled by the pandemic’s inflationary impacts, Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, and even China’s COVID-Zero lockdown tactics. We’re all tightening our belts due to rising food and gas prices, and for the biggest corporations in the world, that means facing some painful truths about some of its more experimental divisions.

The astonishing fall from grace of Facebook, which saw billions upon billions of its market value erased due to a smorgasbord of macroeconomic and strategic obstacles, dominated some of the biggest tech stories of this year. The firm changed its name to Meta and envisioned a future in which people preferred to wear cumbersome VR computers on their faces to perform basic chores rather than the palm-sized pocket computers they already owned. This shift was made possible by the company’s experimental metaverse. Although you probably wouldn’t have known it given how well-known they are, Amazon has acknowledged this year’s failure of their own human-computer interface.

Some of the biggest tech stories of this year revolved around Facebook’s staggering fall from grace, with billions upon billions wiped off its market value owing to a smorgasbord of strategic and macroeconomic headwinds. The focus on its experimental metaverse saw the company rebrand to Meta and imagine a future where users sought to wear bulky VR computers on their faces to do basic tasks rather than the palm-sized pocket computers they already owned. Amazon, quite similarly, has come to terms with its own human-computer interfacing failure this year, although you probably wouldn’t have realized it from how popular they are.

Surprisingly, the biggest money black hole in Amazon’s portfolio appears to be its Amazon Echo speaker line. Which came as a shock to me initially, considering I own several of them. I’ve used an Amazon Echo to control my Xbox. I’ve used my Amazon Echo to interact with my Windows PC. Lots of PCs come with Alexa pre-installed these days too. Everyone I know also owns at least one of the convenient-yet-concerning privacy-busting mini-mics for everything from listening to music to turning on the lights. Yet, the division has been named as one of Amazon’s biggest failures in recent times, which reminded me that, once upon a time, Microsoft also sought a piece of that surprisingly unlucrative pie.

It seems that Microsoft saw the pitfall earlier than most and got out of the game before it became a colossal eyesore within the quarterly earnings spreadsheet. But is there hope for voice-assisted systems in a world where machine learning is becoming increasingly accessible?

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