Microsoft to integrate generative AI capabilities into Microsoft 365

March 16, 2023
There's no word on when business customers will get the new Microsoft 'Copilot' for work technologies or how they'll be priced or licensed. But they're coming.
Stylized image saying 'Introducing Copilot across Microsoft 365"

As rumored, Microsoft is adding new generative AI capabilities to its key Office apps, including Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Teams "in the months ahead." It also is adding Copilot assistive technologies to Power Apps, Power Virtual Agents and Power Automate. And officials announced today a coming Business Chat capability that builds on next-generation large-language model technology.

Microsoft is not talking specific timing, pricing or licensing for any of these at this point. Officials did say the Copilot features are in limited testing with 20 customers. But there's no way for customers to sign up for a waiting list for a preview. And there's also no word yet on how admins will be able to manage and control these new features.

Microsoft execs talked up and demonstrated how the coming Microsoft 365 Copilot will work across the Office suite. They showed off how Copilot will allow users to more easily write, edit and summarize in Word; to identify trends and create data visualizations more quickly in Excel; to access real-time meeting summaries and action items in conversations in Teams and more. On March 15, the day before Microsoft's big reveal, Google showed off its own work to make AI part of its Workspace apps, including Docs, Sheets, Gmail, Slides, Meet and Chat.

It's not clear how the Copilot in Teams capability will build on/complement the intelligent recap feature that Microsoft already has announced and showed off for Teams. It's also not apparent whether these new AI features will replace AI technologies that Microsoft has released for Microsoft 365 over the past few years, such as the Editor feature in Word, Designer in PowerPoint and ContextIQ predictive assistance technologies officials previously announced would be coming to Office. I've asked, but no word back so far.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson sent the following response: "Microsoft 365 Copilot is intended to work hand in hand with already existing offerings. Features like Editor in Word and Designer in PowerPoint are assistants that are designed to offer valuable and relevant recommendations to help improve your writing and/or presentations. Copilot builds on this by generating content, refining existing content and offering advanced feedback."

Another new feature coming to Microsoft 365 is Business Chat, which Microsoft describes as a vehicle to bring 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." I've asked how Business Chat relates to Search with Bing, which allows users to surface many of these same entities when signed into Bing. No word back so far.

Update: "We incorporate various models from OpenAI and Microsoft depending on the product and experience. These are powerful next-generation large language models, including GPT-4, that have been customized for our products. For example, recommending specific edits to a paragraph in Word may be best suited for one model whereas formatting updates could be powered just as well, and perhaps more quickly, with a different model. 

"If customers are logged into Bing with their work account, they will be able to see relevant results from their organization and the web. We’ll have more to share about the experience in the coming months," the aforementioned spokesperson added.

Microsoft didn't simply add OpenAI's ChatGPT chatbot feature to Microsoft 365 to create this new Copilot technology, officials claim. They said Copilot for Microsoft 365 will inherit the security and management controls that exist in Microsoft 365 already. They also made a point of claiming that "Copilot’s large language models are not trained on customer content or on individual prompts," as noted in their press release.

It's very early days for Microsoft's growing family of Copilot assistants. GitHub Copilot, announced last year, is still facing legal challenges. And a number of customers and company watchers are concerned about the security, privacy, compliance and accuracy of these kinds of assistants in the workplace. Microsoft'sdesire to speed up its announcement and delivery pace in the AI space in the name of looking like a first mover instead of a (not-so) fast follower also is a legitimate worry.