PowerPoint, Word, Excel: They're some of the oldest, most established business apps still in use today. And now they'll be integrated with one of the buzziest, newest tech revolutions.
The tool will function like a chatbot available to users in a sidebar, and could be used to create new text, crawl through a Word document in order to create new PowerPoint presentations, or help users deploy Excel functionality they might otherwise miss.
What Can Copilot Do?
Microsoft revealed the new tool today in a blog post, positioning the tool as a major revolution in office software.
“It works alongside you, embedded in the apps millions of people use every day: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, and more. Copilot is a whole new way of working.” – Microsoft executive vice president Jared Spataro.
The tool draws on large language models and pairs them with the personal user data available within Office apps. While the tool is already integrated with Microsoft 365 tools today, the new format (called “Business Chat”) adds a chatbot that more directly engages with a user. The functionality has already been tested out, but it now offers a more hands-on way to convert existing user data — already available in tools like your calendar, emails, chats, documents, meetings and contacts — into new formats.
According to the announcement, users can give the chatbot natural language prompts: Saying “Tell my team how we updated the product strategy,” for example, can generate a new status update based on that morning's work.
I’m more bullish on Microsoft 365 Copilot than “AI and Google Workspaces” not only because MS is ahead on the consumerization of GPT (and better branding) but because people will use Business Chat with MS Teams where as Google Chat usage is lacking and thus it has less context.
— Steve Moser (@SteveMoser) March 16, 2023
Microsoft doesn't have a yet set timeline for a Copilot rollout, or any information on pricing and licensing. But it's coming, the company says, in “the months ahead” to a wide range of products including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, Viva, and Power Platform, among others.
Will AI Fully Replace Us? Not Yet.
AI is far from a perfectly trustworthy personal assistant, as machine learning can often generate “hallucinations” — perfectly logical-sounding statements that are actually gibberish when fact-checked. Spataro addressed this concern by highlighting that the AI tool works best for creating a “first draft” that users can then adjust as needed.
“Copilot gives you a first draft to edit and iterate on — saving hours in writing, sourcing, and editing time. Sometimes Copilot will be right, other times usefully wrong — but it will always put you further ahead.”
“Usefully wrong” is a great term to keep in mind when dealing with today's AI. As potentially revolutionizing as any new technology is, keeping humans in the loop remains a key aspect of quality-control.
At the moment, AI tools (particularly text-based chatbots) are a top tech priority. In fact, Google already announced its own AI tool similar to Microsoft's Copilot this week, making this a clear-cut innovation battle between two tech titans.
Still, Microsoft's entrenched position as a leading business software provider puts it in the best position to actually help people with its AI tools. Boosting efficiency means less time spent tackling boring office tasks, and that's a revolution plenty of people can get behind.