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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.
Microsoft's new Bing chatbot is a consumer-focused technology. To gain access to the preview, users need to sign in with their Microsoft Accounts; it doesn't work with Work or School accounts. But there are signs that Microsoft won't take long to integrate the new Bing bot technology into some of its business products and services, as well.
A little more than a week after its splashy introduction, the new ChatGPT-powered Bing chatbot is showing up in more places. As of today, February 22, it's now available in preview in Bing on iOS and Android devices, as well as an integrated part of the latest Skype client release.
Why start with consumer, rather than business scenarios? Microsoft often uses consumers as unofficial testers before making products available to business customers. And given that the new Bing Bot has been behaving badly and got put in a timeout, caution is warranted.
Then there’s the money angle. Microsoft officials no doubt are hoping that the new "AI-powered answer engine," as they're referring to the new Bing, will help the company grow market share for Bing and Edge, and pull more Microsoft Advertising dollars along with it.
Microsoft already enables customers to roll their own OpenAI integration via its paid Azure OpenAI service. And it has integrated OpenAI's GPT-3+ technology—minus the chatbot part—into Power BI, Viva Sales and Teams Premium. It also offers developers access to Bing programming interfaces for their own custom use, but given the huge price hike for these APIs that is coming this May, that option is looking less viable than ever. Add to that the complexity and overhead required to generate large-language models, many customers will be looking to Microsoft to do the heavy lifting here rather than attempting to do it themselves.
In creating the new Bing bot, Microsoft built on top of "the next generation" OpenAI GPT model (which is something more recent than GPT 3.5, but seemingly not GPT 4.0). Microsoft integrated this model with its Bing indexing, ranking and search results, along with Microsoft's Responsible AI Framework, and christened the combination "Prometheus." The new model powers the updated version of Bing search, as well as the new Bing chat mode.
What might be next for the Bing chatbot? Given that Teams and Skype share the same underlying foundation, maybe the Bing bot will show up in not just the consumer/free version of Teams, but in the Microsoft 365 one, too, now that Microsoft is previewing the new Bing bot integrated into Skype.
There also are rumors that Microsoft is planning to add ChatGPT capabilities to its Office apps in March, according to The Verge. (It's not clear if Microsoft will limit this, at least initially, to a subset of Office apps for families/individuals by making this capability reliant on a Microsoft Account, rather than a Work/School one.)
Microsoft already offers AI integration in Office via a variety of other AI technologies like Editor in Word and Designer in PowerPoint. But as the new Bing bot told me when I asked, the current AI features in Office "are mostly focused on enhancing the user experience and productivity, such as suggesting captions, improving acoustics, or auto-completing code." The coming ChatGPT-powered in Word, PowerPoint and Outlook would be more focused on "new and advanced" capabilities like "generating graphs, graphics, and text from user input."
(To be frank, I wouldn't put too much faith on these Bing-bot-generated answers, since even though they sound authoritative, they change every time I ask the same query.)
There are more hints about where Microsoft is dabbling with Bing-bot integration in other business areas.
A highly likely candidate: Integration of the ChatGPT bot technology with Microsoft's Power Virtual Agents (PVAs). PVA is the unofficial successor to Microsoft's Bot Framework. It's meant to help people create chatbots. It seems like a no brainer to make creating chat bots even simpler by adding a chat-centric front-end. A number of people already are finding ways to do this integration themselves.
It's also worth pointing out that Microsoft is testing a number of "modes" for the new Bing chat bot that could extend its usefulness. In addition to a Game mode, there's also a Friend mode, the regular Bing Chat "Sydney" mode and an Assistant mode (hello, Bing Concierge Bot 2.0!), as Bleeping Computer recently discovered. After the author unearthed these modes, Microsoft cut off public access to them.
There are possible new vertical/domain-specific uses, as well. On the research front, Microsoft is experimenting with integrating GPT and natural language processing capabilities and training a new "BioGPT" model on biomedical literature. Its researchers also have done work in using ChatGPT as a front-end for robotics tasks.
I'm seeing more and more reports of businesses discouraging, if not outright banning, their employees from using ChatGPT at work. But Pandora's box has been opened. More rules and tools are needed before enterprise customers will begin to trust ChatGPT and its progeny. But there's no turning back now.
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