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Microsoft: 365 Copilot chatbot is the AI-based future of work

After announcing its Microsoft 365 Copilot chatbot to automate various tasks across multiple Microsoft Office apps, Microsoft on Thursday demonstrated the tool’s capabilities and introduced a new extension called Business Chat.

Microsoft 365 Copilot is generative artificial intelligence (AI) technology based on GPT-4, a large language model (LLM) created by OpenAI, which is also the basis for the wildly popular ChatGPT chat bot.

Microsoft has integrated ChatGPT functionality with Word, Excel, Teams, PowerPoint, Outlook, Power Platform, Viva, and other apps, allowing users to collect data to create everything from marketing campaigns and business proposals to slide presentations. The features are now only available to a small user community; the company has not announced a general availability date.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the new 365 Copilot chatbot “will revolutionize the way computers help us think, plan and act.

“Just as we cannot imagine computing today without a keyboard, mouse or multitouch, we will not be able to imagine computing in the future without copilots and natural language cues that intuitively help us continue, summarize, reason based on thoughts.” , assess, change and act,” he said.

Copilot combines a large language model (LLM) with the 365 suite and the user data it contains. Using a chatbot interface and natural language processing, users can ask Copilot questions and receive human answers, summarize online chats, and generate business products.

For example, Copilot in Word can jump-start the creative process by giving a user an initial draft to edit and iterate — saving hours of writing, searching and editing, Microsoft said in a blog post.

“Sometimes Copilot is right, other times it’s helpfully wrong — but it will always help you move forward,” Jared Spartaro, Microsoft’s vice president of Modern Work & Business Applications, said in the blog. “As an author, you’re always in control, driving your unique ideas forward, and prompting Copilot to trim, rewrite, or provide feedback.”

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An example of Copilot in Word using meeting notes to create a draft proposal.

Microsoft claims Copilot is more than OpenAI’s ChatGPT embedded in Microsoft 365. Officials called it an “advanced processing and orchestration engine” that combines the power of LLMs, “including GPT-4”, with the Microsoft 365 apps and the company’s data from a user in the Microsoft Graph, which is now publicly available through natural language. (Microsoft Graph is the company’s API developer platform that connects multiple services and devices.)

For example, Copilot in Microsoft’s new Business Chat feature can be used to summarize a chat conversation, pull out specific recording points, add recent customer contacts, open Outlook calendar items, and view slides from add a presentation to create a business proposal – all based on the chat conversation.

Business Chat users can also write questions in natural language, such as “Tell my team how we updated product strategy,” and it generates a status update based on the morning meetings, emails, and chat threads.

Copilot in PowerPoint can help create presentations with a simple prompt, adding relevant content from a document a user created last week or last year. And Copilot in Excel can analyze trends and create professional-looking data visualizations in seconds.

“We all want to focus on the 20% of our work that really matters, but 80% of our time is spent on busy work that holds us back. Copilot lightens the load,” said Spartaro.

Copilot in Teams can summarize key points of discussion, including who said what, where people agree and disagree, and suggest action points – all in real time during a meeting.

Due to Copilot’s intuitive AI-based capabilities, the chatbot allows users to take advantage of advanced functionality without requiring expertise in using Microsoft 365 applications. “The average person uses less than 10% of what PowerPoint can do. Co-pilot unlocks the other 90%,” said Sumit Chauhan, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Office Product Group.

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Copilot in PowerPoint turns ideas into presentations by creating textual content, images, and video from multiple sources.

For example, someone who works at a global manufacturing company and wants to create a customer proposal could ask Copilot to use customer notes in OneNote and other internal documents to quickly generate an initial draft. It can then use the format typically used for proposals by pulling from a user’s history.

“It inserts product images and extracts relevant images from other files. You can even include a brief summary at the top of the document and Copilot can make suggestions to strengthen the proposal, such as adding an FAQ, which will generate it for you,” Chauhan said.

The integration of large language models (LLMs) with a user’s business data, including that stored in OneDrive (documents, photos and videos), allows for more creativity without the tedious work of putting everything together yourself, according to Spartaro.

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Copilot in Excel works with users to help analyze and explore data.

Microsoft has been outspoken that its chatbot will make mistakes, but promised to address these issues “quickly”. Generative AI technology, such as that embedded in Microsoft’s Bing search engine or Google’s Bard chatbot service, has shown blatant response errors. Chatbots also have issues with “hallucinations,” or generating a rabbit hole of bizarre content based on errors.

Microsoft said it is well aware of the privacy and security implications of generative AI engines, and has vetted and will continue to closely monitor its product.

“Not only did we build (data) grounding into the system, we built authentication into the experience,” Spartaro said. “We added quotes and introduced forms of friction to encourage back-and-forth collaboration (between the user and the Copilot). We’ve added feedback mechanisms so people can let us know if we’re wrong.

“Our goal is to give people freedom of choice. To get people started, Copilot suggests good prompts. If you don’t like what it does, there’s the ‘try again’ button,” Spartaro said. “You always have the option to use, modify, discard or undo.”

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