I attended a small event in Redmond, Washington in early February. At the event, Microsoft introduced the new Bing with ChatGPT. This is the first of many recent AI innovations that promise to change the AI conversation forever. Not just AI chatbots, but how large-scale language models (LLMs) affect many aspects of our lives, arguing that they have initiated a technological transformation not seen since the introduction of the modern internet. I believe. Microsoft raised the proverbial blue flag that day. From that point on, the AI race heated up in ways no one could have predicted.
The speed and progression of the announcements since then has been phenomenal and does not appear to be slowing down. The company’s latest announcement, today’s introduction of Microsoft 365 Copilot, has the potential to transform the way hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people use productivity tools every day. Let’s take a look at Microsoft’s latest AI roadmap announcement and how it fits into the broader AI race.
Go racing with Bing and Edge
Microsoft made groundbreaking announcements in February, introducing a new AI-powered Bing search engine and Edge browser. Despite the ensuing media circus of AI ‘hallucinations’ and ‘feelings’, I think his first week in this transformational tech was relatively smooth. Microsoft said this is a work in progress. It showed all the disclaimers in the book, and the company was humble and transparent when it came time to reveal the findings from Bing Edge’s first week.
I was lucky enough to be an early previewer of the new Bing and Edge. Bing has the potential to change the search efficiency game, showing how generative AI can provide natural, human-like responses within the functional context of search engines. I’ve found Bing Sidebar to be the most useful for my work. Paraphrase, summarize, and itemize press releases and articles. As I said before (and Microsoft fully acknowledges), Bing still has issues to work out. Still, the possibility of this kind of contextual assistance in our everyday tools could be a game changer.
Microsoft 365 Copilot improves productivity and collaboration for the future of work
Last week, Microsoft addressed a specific enterprise use case when it introduced Microsoft Dynamics 365 Copilot. This aims to help users of the company’s CRM and ERP solutions reduce repetitive tasks. Its debut reinforced what I thought was where the company would release AI next: workplace productivity tools for modern work.
We talked about this in our weekly podcast here.
Well, Microsoft has gone even further with today’s introduction of Microsoft 365 Copilot. This announcement has a broader impact, as it affects many areas of Microsoft 365, including the Office apps that most of us have been using for decades. This nickname is consistent with the company’s Copilot nomenclature already used by GitHub, Bing, and Dynamics (since last week). Hence the co-pilot.
Copilot is based on the belief that AI’s current place in the workforce is to complement roles, not replace people. I think the widespread fear that AI will take jobs is wrong. But even with its current capabilities, AI already has the precision and intelligence to automate some tasks and start changing the way people work.
Microsoft’s latest Copilot is built into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Teams and more, working with you in the apps you already use every day. This integration makes perfect sense to me. Getting people to adopt new technology is hard work, but putting new technology next to what people already know and use is an easy way to start as a co-pilot. Earlier this month, I wrote about a similar Windows 11 extension that uses integrated Bing Chat. Users can now quickly access his AI search feature in Bing with just a few clicks from anywhere in their Windows 11 environment.
The company also announced Business Chat, a chat-based co-pilot experience built into the Microsoft 365 suite. Business Chat accesses data and information across all 365 apps to quickly display information and insights. Plus, because it’s based on LLM, Business Chat can be programmed with your organization’s data and keeps learning. Of course, users still need to classify and validate information for adequacy and accuracy, but LLM collects key information from across the organization to foster more knowledge. We know this saves people time searching for answers, which increases productivity, especially in a hybrid workforce.
Just when you thought drag-and-drop low-code development was as simple as possible, Microsoft introduced Copilot to the Power Platform. It might sound too good to be true, but if you can explain something, Copilot promises to create it for you in a low-code experience. If Microsoft can deliver on this promise, the Power Platform could be a powerful tool for underdeveloped organizations.
How Microsoft 365 Copilot drives next-level efficiency
For users, an AI co-pilot is like having an assistant who can express themselves in human-readable language. A big differentiator is that 365 Copilot leverages your organization’s data and context from Microsoft Graph (more on that below). Users can also pin 365 Copilot to a specific dataset. For example, if someone uses a chatbot to write a technical overview, the AI can be restricted to capturing only that specific product’s documentation.
There are endless potential use cases for how the tool fits into your daily workflow. A Microsoft executive likened his Copilot functionality within Word to giving a word processor professional journalism skills, but we think we’re still far from that. That said, Copilot can already generate human-readable content that serves as a solid starting point for your documentation. You can use that same data to populate PowerPoint. The cool thing is that Copilot can generate professional looking multidimensional PowerPoint from pure text. Even knowing that he will likely need to review and fact-check the resulting PowerPoint deck, I think this will save him a lot of time.
These tools aren’t perfect yet, but Microsoft says they’re already making great strides in testing. Demos during analyst briefings at least showed the potential to create an informed starting point.
Data Basis and Questions: Is this true?
365 Copilot works with information derived from Microsoft Graph, the access point for data stored across all 365 services and products. Microsoft maintains tenant groups and individual data within designated zones. This means that data is never shared or transferred between tenants, or companies. Unlike most LLMs, 365 Copilot does not use your data inputs to train LLMs for use by others outside your organization. This means there is no risk of unauthorized access to data between his Copilot implementations at different organizations. There is also no risk that Copilot data will be used to train the LLMs underlying ChatGPT. At the same time, Copilot is fully integrated into Microsoft 365, so you benefit from Microsoft’s comprehensive approach to security, compliance, and privacy.
One of the biggest problems with LLM so far is accuracy. Bing does a good job of citing sources to help users verify accuracy, but generative AI isn’t always reliable. Microsoft addressed this in his 365 Copilot, calling it “grounding queries”. This means that each chatbot query response is returned in a graph to substantiate the response. Microsoft gave an example of asking the co-pilot for details on a particular day. The copilot then compares the responses to calendars and other information, scanning multiple data his points to answer the question, “Is this true?”
I’ve been a 365 (formerly Office) user for at least 30 years, and 365 Copilot has features demoed by Microsoft in preview and available from day one. It’s not easy to say this about the technology that is transforming the industry. Other features seem a bit ahead. We’ll see people using it one day, but it’s going to be a while before it’s fully adopted.
We like the uniqueness of tenant group data and see it as an advantage on many levels, including security and compliance. However, Microsoft has the challenge of educating customers that co-pilots are trained on organizational or personal data. This means the experience is very different from Bing, ChatGPT, or other generative AI bots aimed at large audiences. With that difference in mind, Microsoft certainly has the potential to overcome the concerns that led to ChatGPT’s bans at companies like Amazon, Verizon and JPMorgan Chase.
As we’ve seen with the introduction of the new Bing and Edge, there are definitely mistakes and criticisms. When Microsoft rolls this out, people have to remember that it’s a copilot, not an autopilot. That said, we are excited to see how Microsoft helps customers use data-trained LLM to make their organizations more intelligent and efficient.
Note: Melody Brue, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Modern Work, contributed significantly to this analysis.
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