During an AI-focused press event today, Microsoft unveiled Microsoft 365 Copilot, its latest push to embed its suite of productivity and enterprise apps with AI. Currently in testing with select (around 20) commercial customers, Copilot combines the power of AI models including OpenAI’s recently announced GPT-4 with business data and Microsoft 365 apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Teams.
“Today marks the next major step in the evolution of how we interact with computing, 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 giving people more agency and making technology more accessible through the most universal interface — natural language.”
Copilot handles different tasks depending on the app in which it’s used. For example, in Word, Copilot writes, edits, summarizes and generates text, while in PowerPoint and Excel, Copilot turns natural language commands into designed presentations and data visualizations.
The PowerPoint capabilities are particularly nifty. Using Copilot, users can create a presentation based on a Word document, complete with a slick deck and table of contents. They can then refine that deck by asking Copilot to, for instance, “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 responses with toggles to adapt the length or tone. Meanwhile, in Teams, Copilot provides real-time summaries and action items in the context of conversations.
One of the more intriguing elements of Copilot is Business Chat, which brings together data from across documents, presentations, email, calendar, notes and contacts to help summarize chats, write emails, find key dates or even write a plan based on other project files. With 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.
In a blog post, Microsoft stressed that the models driving Copilot’s aren’t trained on customer content or on individual prompts. Specifics on pricing and licensing will be shared soon, it said.
AI is notoriously error-prone — even cutting-edge models like GPT-4 makes boneheaded mistakes. So what about Copilot? Microsoft doesn’t deny that it can get things wrong. But in the same breath, the company highlights the “grounding” that Copilot uses to improve the quality of the prompts it’s given.
In a live presentation today, Microsoft 365 head Jared Spataro explained that prompts fed to Copilot are first filtered through the Microsoft Graph, Microsoft’s unified data API, for additional context. These modified prompts are then sent to GPT-4, and the responses 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’s not perfect but still gives you a head start,” said Spataro. “We make it clear how the system makes decisions by noting limitations, linking to sources, and prompting users to review, fact-check and adjust content based on subject-matter expertise.”
It’s hard to take Spataro at his word, considering Microsoft recently laid off a major ethics team within its AI organization. The team had been working to identify risks posed by Microsoft’s adoption of OpenAI’s language models throughout its software and services. But Spataro said that Copilot’s launch was in the interest of serving the “unmet needs” of Microsoft’s customers.
“We must move quickly and responsibly, learning as we go,” says Spataro. “We’re testing Copilot with a small group of customers to get feedback and improve our models as we scale, and we will expand to more soon.”
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 down its investments in AI and automation. It was just in January that Microsoft invested billions more in OpenAI, the startup developing the technologies behind the various incarnations of Copilot, and the tech giant is evidently eager to see returns on investment.
The aggressive approach has had consequences, though. Microsoft is facing an internal shortage of the server hardware needed to run its AI, according to a report this week in The Information. The company has reportedly been forced to ration access to the hardware for some internal teams building other AI tools to ensure it has enough capacity to handle both Bing’s new GPT-4 powered chatbot and the upcoming, newly-announced Microsoft 365 Copilot tools.