Microsoft continues to exploit its close relationship with OpenAI and ChatGPT, with the news that it has added AI capabilities called ‘Copilot’ to its Office suite (Word, Excel etc).

The software giant announced on Thursday that it is “bringing the power of next-generation AI to its workplace productivity tools with Microsoft 365 Copilot.”

The development comes after Microsoft last month bundled AI capabilities into both its Bing search engine and Edge browser.

Mr Clippy upgrade?

Office Copilot

Microsoft has also reportedly had initial talks with ad agencies about plans to insert advertisements into Bing AI search results generated by OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot.

Next Microsoft revealed it was expanding the reach of its recently upgraded Bing search engine, to offer artificial intelligence (AI) functionality to millions of Windows users.

Redmond updated its Windows operating system to promote its new Bing chatbot – which draws on OpenAI’s artificial intelligence capabilities.

Now this week Microsoft is adding OpenAI technology to Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc.

The software giant said that the new offerings are currently in testing with select commercial customers.

“Copilot combines the power of large language models (LLMs) with business data and the Microsoft 365 apps, to unleash creativity, unlock productivity and uplevel skills,” said Microsoft.

According to Redmond, Customers will experience Microsoft 365 Copilot in two ways:

  • First, it is embedded in the Microsoft 365 apps people use every day — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams and more.
  • Secondly, Microsoft also announced an entirely new experience: Business Chat. Business Chat works across the LLM, the Microsoft 365 apps, and a customer’s calendar, emails, chats, documents, meetings and contacts to do things that people weren’t able to do before. With natural language prompts like “tell my team how we updated the product strategy,” Business Chat will generate a status update based on the morning’s meetings, emails and chat threads.

“Copilot combines the power of large language models with your data and apps to turn your words into the most powerful productivity tool on the planet,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president, Modern Work and Business Applications, Microsoft.

“By grounding in your business content and context, Copilot delivers results that are relevant and actionable,” said Spataro. “It’s enterprise-ready, built on Microsoft’s comprehensive approach to security, compliance, privacy and responsible AI. Copilot marks a new era of computing that will fundamentally transform the way we work.”

But how will it work in practice across Microsoft’s Office suite?

Well, according to Redmond:

  • Copilot in Word writes, edits, summarises and creates alongside people as they work;
  • Copilot in PowerPoint turns ideas into a designed presentation via natural language commands;
  • Copilot in Excel helps unlock insights, identify trends or quickly create professional-looking data visualisations;
  • Copilot in Outlook can help synthesise and manage the inbox;
  • Copilot in Teams can provide real-time summaries and action items directly in the context of the conversation;
  • Copilot in Power Platform will help developers accelerate and streamline development with the introduction of two new capabilities within Power Apps and Power Virtual Agents;
  • Business Chat brings together data from across documents, presentations, email, calendar, notes and contacts to help summarise chats, write emails, find key dates or even write a plan based on other project files.

Microsoft did not say specifically when the new AI copilot features would debut and what the pricing would be, but suggested it would be “in the months ahead.

The development comes after OpenAI last week publicly revealed its GPT-4 software, touting it as a significant improvement over its predecessor, that can produce more accurate text responses.

Game changer?

The addition of AI functionality to Microsoft’s Office suite could be a significant moment for the widespread use of AI tech in everyday software.

“Ordinarily, I wouldn’t comment on office applications, but this is a game-changer,” noted Dr Andrew Rogoyski from the University of Surrey. “It’s an extraordinarily aggressive move by Microsoft to gain a first-mover advantage by bringing AI to millions of desktops worldwide. It explains their enormous investment in OpenAI and presages new AI applications.”

“The launch of ChatGPT only five months ago was the inflexion point for AI, making AI accessible to everyone curious and sparking a swathe of AI start-ups, building utilities and applications on these foundation models,” said Dr Rogoyski. “Now Copilot and Bing will put AI on practically every desktop.”

“Although people may initially resist the idea of using AI, the ability to do things like summarise long documents and prioritise your email inbox will be an absolute godsend for most people struggling to cope with the ever-increasing volume of information we have to get through every day,” said Dr Rogoyski.

“Writers, copyrighters, screenwriters, and journalists will have to integrate these new tools if they want to match the productivity of their competitors,” said Dr Rogoyski.

“Those in the education sector desperately trying to close the stable door will find the horse has bolted and burned the stable down,” said Dr Rogoyski. “There’s no way back from this. AI will be available to every school child and student as a matter of routine, as a matter of right. So educators need to rethink how we assess students and how we prove that they’ve acquired the knowledge and skills we expect of them.”

“We’ll also have to start teaching how to use these tools, for example, how to fact-check, how to explore the provenance of sources, and how not to use AI-generated material blindly,” Dr Rogoyski added.

Google challenge

“I find it interesting that we all thought AI was going to be the cold, logical, authoritative source of information, as portrayed in science fiction in the past,” said Dr Rogoyski. “It now appears that AI will be used to create images, words, music, and speeches and that humans will be the fact-checkers and guardians of the truth. We can only hope.”

“My guess is that the next step will be for Microsoft and others to offer enterprise bolt-ons to Copilot that incorporates all the corporate knowledge in a particular company, thus allowing customised versions of Copilot to provide bespoke help to individual companies,” said Dr Rogoyski.

“There is a question of information leakage in the adoption of these AI, especially if the AI is allowed to learn from its interactions with users and its access to corporate data,” said Dr Rogoyski.

“This is yet another blow for Google as companies who have invested in the Google office suite, which grew massively during the pandemic as users shifted to the cloud, may be asking themselves if they backed the right horse,” Dr Rogoyski concluded.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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