Cortana and Foursquare – Coming to a Smartphone Near You?

Today the Verge reported on recent speculated developments concerning Microsoft’s Cortana mobile personal assistant. The article sites Bloomberg News for information that Cortana will be part of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8. 1. Cortana is expected to launch in April and will incorporate location-aware features from none other than Foursquare.  The Bloomberg article states that Microsoft has invested $15 million in Foursquare.

CortanaSo how will Microsoft use Foursquare’s location data in its new personal assistant? Knowing the user’s location will allow Cortana to send out discounts and other promotions and tips for stores in the user’s vicinity. According to the Bloomberg report, this push technology will be an opt-in feature.

Science Fiction fans may be reminded of stories and novels by Philip K. Dick, who presciently predicted the ubiquity of “personalized” advertisements. His visions of flying cars and jalopies to Mars may not have panned out yet, but it looks like his insights on the future of advertising sure will. Dick imagined ads as pesky and invasive.  In his novel “The Simulacra” of 1964, Dick writes:

Something sizzled to the right of him. A commercial [..] had attached itself to his car. [..] Chic crushed it with his foot.

Can Cortana, and other mobile personal assistants armed with location data, figure out a way to alert users to nearby, interesting promotions without being perceived as annoying? That remains to be seen. If personal assistants are familiar enough with a user’s preferences, the chances increase that they’ll select only those promotions the user really wants to hear about. Hopefully it won’t come to Philip K. Dick’s vision of errant ads rudely invading our private spaces. On the other hand, nobody wants to miss out on a great sale of their favorite product or brand that’s right under their nose! Balancing the need for privacy against the desire for timely, relevant information is a skill mobile personal assistants will need to perfect.