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Microsoft can't stop injecting Copilot AI into every corner of its app empire

Teams gets a bot, OneNote gets a bot, PowerPoint gets a bot, Outlook gets a bot, everybody* gets a bot!

Two months ago, Microsoft sprinkled AI-powered Copilot-branded features all over its 365 cloud service, and worked with 20 enterprises including Goodyear, General Motors, and Chevron to get feedback on the digital assistants and work out some of the kinks.

Now Redmond is expanding the roster of companies that can check out the tool, announcing an early access program for 600 chosen companies around the world in an invitation-only, paid preview of Copilot.

See Register passim for an idea of what Copilot brings to Microsoft 365. Essentially, picture an OpenAI GPT-4-based chatbot plugged into your business's IT environment so that it can carry out instructions, answer questions, and respond to other prompts about your data. Ask it to write an email for you, summarize a document, and so on. This is supposed to free up people's time and increase productivity.

Redmond is also adding more features to Copilot, including a semantic indexing capability that will, we're told, better understand the nuances of your corporate data and respond better to prompts. It's obviously a complete coincidence that the Windows giant would announce this stuff the same week of Google IO, an event in which the web goliath revealed similar ML-powered services.

According to Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of modern work and business applications at Microsoft, the "overwhelming feedback" from those first 20 enterprises is that "Copilot has the potential to revolutionize work." We expected nothing less.

"They point to how it is a game changer for meetings and is beginning to transform the way they create," Spataro said. "And, they've identified areas where we can do more to help people adapt to this new way of working, like the need for more conversational, multi-turn interactions."

Even More Copilot

The new Semantic Index for Copilot in Microsoft 365 for E3 and E5 users will help organizations get ready for the oncoming infusion of AI into the workplace, Spataro opined. It will be able to better parse input prompts and return more precisely the information being looked for, we're promised.

Here's an example Spataro gave: a staffer asks Copilot for a March sales report, and the system goes beyond looking for documents that simply have those words in the filename or body, and instead figures out the intent of the query, understands which employee from what team produces that report and where it's created, and uses all of that to better locate the required data, it's claimed.

Copilot has been injected into things like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as a Business Chat bot. Now Microsoft is putting Copilot in Whiteboard for Teams, with participants being able to ask the AI system to generate and organize ideas, create designs, and summarize the content of a meeting or session.

Copilot in Outlook will help with clarity and tone in emails, we're promised. It's also coming to OneNote (drafting plans, generating ideas, organizing information for customers), Loop (summarizing content on a Loop page), and Viva Learning (which will include a national language chat interface).

Redmond also bringing DALL-E, an AI image generation technology from OpenAI, into PowerPoint to help users create custom images for presentations.

All this follows an already aggressive expansion of Copilot in other areas of Microsoft's portfolio, from Office and Teams to Viva, GitHub, and security tools, with most in preview or other early-stage points. However, it's not slowing down the company's hype for AI in the workplace.

Congratulations! You're free from drudgery, allegedly

"This new generation of AI will remove the drudgery of work and unleash creativity," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said. "There's an enormous opportunity for AI-powered tools to help alleviate digital debt, build AI aptitude, and empower employees."

Of course, there's a study included to back up Microsoft's case. This found that workers spend more than half their work day on collaboration tools like Teams and similar apps rather than innovating. Unsurprisingly for a corporation that is spending billions to back OpenAI and integrate the upstart's products like GPT-4, DALL-E, and ChatGPT throughout the Microsoft portfolio – AI will fix a lot of these problems, it's said.

"The platform shift to AI is underway and will completely transform the way people work," Microsoft claimed in the opening sentence of its 29-page 2023 Work Trend Index report [PDF].

AI pushing its way into the workplace – not only from Microsoft but other tech beasts, such as Google and Facebook – may help with productivity by taking over repetitive tasks. That said, there's also the worry – particularly in an IT industry that is being racked by layoffs in myriad companies – that it will mean fewer jobs. Not to mention the questionable accuracy and abilities of these machine-learning systems.

The employment side of things was brought into focus by IBM CEO Arvind Krishna, who earlier this month said that as many as 30 percent of back-office roles could be eliminated by AI technologies and that Big Blue will likely reduce hiring in those areas over the next five years.

There are concerns within and outside the tech industry about the rapid pace of AI innovation. In March hundreds of computer scientists, tech leaders, and AI experts signed a letter urging a pause in the training of AI systems – Nadella has said it will be a positive force in the world, even if there are negative impacts.

"At the end of the day, I think we will all be judged by one thing alone, which is, 'Do the benefits far outweigh anything that are the societal consequences?'" the CEO said in an interview this week. ®

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