Microsoft on Thursday outlined its plans to bring artificial intelligence to its most recognizable productivity tools, including Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel and Word, with the promise of changing how millions do their work every day.
At an event on Thursday, the company announced that Microsoft 365 users will soon be able to use what the company is calling an AI “Co-pilot,” which will help edit, summarize, create and compare documents. But don’t call it Clippy. The new features, which are built on the same technology that underpins ChatGPT, are far more powerful (and less anthropomorphized) than its wide-eyed, paperclip-shaped predecessor.
With the new features, users will be able to transcribe meeting notes during a Skype call, summarize long email threads to quickly draft suggested replies, request to create a specific chart in Excel, and turn a Word document into a PowerPoint presentation in seconds.
Microsoft is also introducing a concept called Business Chat, an agent that essentially rides along with the user as they work and tries to understand and make sense of their Microsoft 365 data. The agent will know what’s in a user’s email and on their calendar for the day as well as the documents they’ve been working on, the presentations they’ve been making, the people they’re meeting with, and the chats happening on their Teams platform, according to the company. Users can then ask Business Chat to do tasks such as write a status report by summarizing all of the documents across platforms on a certain project, and then draft an email that could be sent to their team with an update.
Microsoft’s announcement comes a month after it brought similar AI-powered features to Bing and amid a renewed arms race in the tech industry to develop and deploy AI tools that can change how people work, shop and create. Earlier this week, rival Google announced it is also bringing AI to its productivity tools, including Gmail, Sheets and Docs.
The news also comes two days after OpenAI, the company behind Microsoft’s artificial intelligence technology and the creator of ChatGPT, unveiled its next-generation model, GPT-4. The update has stunned many users in early tests and a company demo with its ability to draft lawsuits, pass standardized exams and build a working website from a hand-drawn sketch.
OpenAI said it added more “guardrails” to keep conversations on track and has worked to make the tool less biased. But the update, and the moves by larger tech companies to integrate this technology, could add to challenging questions around how AI tools can upend professions, enable students to cheat, and shift our relationship with technology. Microsoft’s new Bing browser has already been using GPT-4, for better or worse.
A Microsoft spokesperson said 365 users accessing the new AI tools should be reminded the technology is a work in progress and information will need to be double checked. Although OpenAI has made vast improvements to its latest model, GPT-4 has similar limitations to previous versions. The company said it can still make “simple reasoning errors” or be “overly gullible in accepting obvious false statements from a user,” and does not fact check.
Still, Microsoft believes the changes will improve the experience of people at work in a significant way by allowing them to do tasks easier and less tedious, freeing them up to be more analytical and creative.