Microsoft announces new AI-powered tools for its office apps

Innovation

Built on OpenAI’s generative AI technology and one of the largest datasets comprising trillions of data points, Copilot can write emails, business proposals and meeting minutes.
Microsoft headquarters in Bucharest, Romania

Natural language-based AI tool Copilot will be embedded across the Microsoft Office suite of applications such as Word, Teams, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint and can help users write emails, create presentations and catch up on meetings.

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On Thursday, Microsoft announced a natural language-based AI tool called Copilot that will be embedded across its Office suite of applications such as Word, Teams, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. The tool is currently being tested and has been rolled out to 20 select enterprise users, the company said.

Copilot combines large language models with Microsoft Graph, a dataset of human workplace activity that includes trillions of data points collected from the suite of Microsoft applications. Microsoft also plans to make the AI capabilities available to its billions of users through a separate application called Business Chat, a chatbot that can provide information from sources like the user’s calendar, email, documents and meetings. Although Microsoft has not yet disclosed specific pricing for Copilot, it plans to charge extra for the tool, which will be bundled with other services that are part of Microsoft 365.

“We won’t be able to imagine computing without copilots and natural language prompts that intuitively help us with continuation, summarization, chain of thought reasoning, reviewing, modifying, and acting,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said.

With Copilot, Microsoft hopes to make working easier for users of their apps. For example, in Excel the tool could be used to identify trends or make visualizations. In Outlook, it could help users organize email in their inbox to find what they’re looking for more quickly and compose replies to emails. In Word, Microsoft says that Copilot can brainstorm and generate drafts that a user can then edit or adjust based on tone or length. In PowerPoint, the tool can create slides and automatically add transitions to them. Within Teams, Copilot can create summaries of the meeting for someone who missed a part of the meeting and generate action items based on conversations.

The announcement comes a day after OpenAI rolled out GPT-4, the latest iteration of its viral chatbot ChatGPT. OpenAI, whose technology Microsoft has an exclusive license to use and charge customers for, claims that GPT-4 is safer, more restricted in its responses and can perform more advanced tasks like doing taxes or pass the bar exam.

Microsoft isn’t the only company bringing AI to the office. Earlier this week, Google announced that it is bringing its own large language models to Google Workspace apps like Docs, Gmail and Sheets, as well as to Google Cloud.

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Copilot’s features will allow Microsoft’s apps to better integrate with one another, the company says. For example, it can draft a contextualized response to an Outlook email and automatically pull in data from an Excel spreadsheet. It is also able to summarize large pieces of text for things like presentations and can retrieve images from OneDrive to embed in a document. or format the text according to other stored documents.

At its announcement event, the company also explained how Copilot works behind the scenes. After a user inputs a prompt, Copilot processes it and improves the quality of the prompts so that it can generate a relevant answer. Through a process called “grounding,” Copilot leans into the content and context from Microsoft Graph and sends a modified prompt to its large language model which creates a response. Before giving the response back to the user, Microsoft claims that Copilot checks it for security compliance and privacy standards.

When Microsoft rolled out its Bing AI chatbot in February, it was riddled with inaccuracies and strange responses. In its own public demo, the ChatGPT-based bot made up false information about a product and reported incorrect financial information for Gap and Lululemon. That might be why Microsoft emphasized that even though Copilot is built with checks and filters in place, the tool can make errors and its responses still need to be thoroughly reviewed before sending or using. “Sometimes Copilot will get it right. Other times it will be usefully wrong,” says Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of modern work and business applications at Microsoft.

As it looks to integrate generative AI capabilities across all its core products, Microsoft says that adding citations and “grounding” its large language models in data will help reduce the errors that Copilot makes.

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