At an AI-focused press event today, Microsoft unveiled Microsoft 365 Copilot, the latest effort to integrate its suite of productivity and business apps with AI. Copilot is currently being tested with select (approximately 20) commercial customers and combines the power of AI models, including OpenAI’s recently announced GPT-4, with enterprise data and Microsoft 365 apps such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Teams.
“Today marks the next big step in the evolution of how we interact with computers, which will fundamentally change the way we work and unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “With our new copilot for work, we’re empowering people and making technology more accessible through the most universal interface: natural language.”
Copilot performs different tasks depending on the app it is used in. For example, in Word, Copilot writes, edits, captures, and generates text, while in PowerPoint and Excel, Copilot turns natural language commands into designed presentations and data visualizations.
Copilot in Excel can also reveal correlations, suggest what-if scenarios and suggest new formulas based on users’ questions, Microsoft says – generating models based on those questions. And in Word, Copilot can suggest tones (including “professional,” “passionate,” “informal,” and “grateful”) as it makes suggestions that try to strengthen arguments or address inconsistencies.
The PowerPoint capabilities are particularly useful. Copilot allows users to create a presentation from a Word document, complete with a slick deck, speaker notes, and source citations. They can then fine-tune that deck by asking Copilot to, for example, “add animations to this slide” or “apply a modern style to the presentation.”
In Outlook, Copilot can help synthesize and manage inboxes, as well as draft replies with toggles to adjust length or tone. (It recognizes a prompt such as “Compose an answer to thank them and ask for more details about their second and third points; shorten this draft and make the tone professional”). Meanwhile, in Teams, Copilot provides real-time summaries and action items, such as identifying people for follow-ups and creating meeting agendas, in the context of conversations.
One of the more intriguing elements of Copilot is Business Chat, which brings together data from various documents, presentations, email, calendar, notes, and contacts to summarize chats, write emails, find important dates, or even create a plan. to write based on other project files. . With prompts like “tell my team how we updated product strategy”, Business Chat – the first in Teams – will generate a status update based on the morning meetings, emails and chat threads.
In a blog post, Microsoft emphasized that the models controlling Copilots are not trained on customer content or on individual clues. Pricing and licensing details will be shared soon, it said.
AI is notoriously error-prone – even advanced models like GPT-4 make stupid mistakes. So what about Copilot? Microsoft doesn’t deny that it can get things wrong. But in the same breath, the company emphasizes the “grounding” that Copilot uses to improve the quality of the directions provided.
In a live presentation today, Jared Spataro, head of Microsoft 365, explained that prompts sent to Copilot are first filtered by the Microsoft Graph, Microsoft’s unified data API, for additional context. These modified prompts are then sent to GPT-4, and the answers are filtered back through the Microsoft Graph for safety, security, and compliance checks, and then sent back to Microsoft 365 apps.
“Sometimes Copilot will get it right, other times it will be usefully wrong, giving you an idea that isn’t perfect but still gives you an edge,” Spataro said. “We’re clarifying how the system makes decisions by noticing limitations, linking to resources, and prompting users to rate, fact-check, and modify content based on expert knowledge.”
It’s hard to take Spataro at his word, as Microsoft recently laid off a large ethics team within its AI organization. The team had been working to identify risks arising from Microsoft’s adoption of OpenAI’s language models across its software and services. But in the presentation, Spataro said launching Copilot was in the interest of serving the “unmet needs” of Microsoft customers.
“We must act quickly and responsibly, as we learn,” added Spataro. “We are testing Copilot with a small group of customers [including 8 Fortune 500 enterprises] to get feedback and improve our models as we scale, and we will expand to more soon.”
In any case, these are not new concepts. A cursory Google search turns up dozens of AI-powered tools that offer writing recommendations; generate emails, text and slide decks; summarizes meetings and more along the lines of what Copilot can accomplish. But Microsoft argues that Copilot can do it better and more securely. That remains to be seen.
Copilot in Microsoft 365 follows the rollout of Copilot in Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s portfolio of enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management tools, and it’s strong evidence that the company isn’t slowing its investments in AI and automation. It wasn’t until January that Microsoft invested billions more in OpenAI, the startup developing the technologies behind the various incarnations of Copilot, and the tech giant is apparently eager to see a return on its investment.
It’s also trying to stay one step ahead of rival Google, which this week announced a major update to Workspace, its collection of productivity and collaboration tools, which will bring generative AI to virtually every part of the suite.
The rollout from both Microsoft and Google definitely feels rushed. As with Copilot, the new AI-powered Workspace features will only be available to “trusted testers” at launch, Google said in its announcement, and have yet to be priced.
Microsoft’s aggressive approach has had consequences. According to a report in The Information yesterday, the company is facing an internal shortage of the server hardware needed to run its AI, namely GPUs. (In connection, OpenAI revealed yesterday that it was working with Microsoft to build a “supercomputer” in Azure to develop GPT-4.) Microsoft has reportedly been forced to ration access to the hardware for some internal teams that other Building AI tools to ensure it has enough capacity to handle both Bing’s new GPT-4 powered chatbot and upcoming, newly announced Microsoft 365 Copilot tools.