The first real buds in Microsoft’s $10bn commitment to OpenAI have started to blossom, with the tech giant revealing a new era of artificial intelligence (AI)-powered office productivity.
The company has been trialling OpenAI’s ChatGPT within Bing to provide a search engine that some industry commentators say is a big improvement on Google. Microsoft is now set to tackle the challenge of putting AI into its office productivity suite in a way that does not limit the work human workers do.
In a LinkedIn live stream, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the latest AI developments, describing what he regarded as seminal moments in the development of IT, such as the invention of the mouse, the graphical user interface and the iPhone, all of which have helped to build a closer symbiotic relationship between humans and computing.
“Today, we are at the start of a new era of computing. Over the past few months, powerful new foundation models [have been introduced], together with accessible natural language interfaces. This next generation of AI is fundamentally different from the AI we’ve grown accustomed to,” he said.
Nadella described existing AI systems as autopilot systems. Where Microsoft hopes to differentiate is by offering tools that use AI in a way to support human workers.
“We’re moving from autopilot to copilot,” he said. “As we build this next generation of AI, we made a conscious design choice to put the human at the centre of the product. Today is the start of the next step in this journey, with powerful foundation models and capable copilots accessible via the most universal interface – natural language – which will radically transform how computers help us think, plan and act.”
According to Nadella, just as end-user computing is linked intricately to a keyboard and a mouse, going forward, users will not be able to imagine computing without copilots and natural language prompts.
To begin the journey, Microsoft has begun piloting with its enterprise customers a large language model (LLM) dubbed Microsoft 365 Copilot.
According to Microsoft, Copilot combines the power of large language models with business data and Microsoft 365 apps to help users unleash creativity, unlock productivity and uplevel skills.
“Copilot combines the power of large language models with your data and apps to turn your words into the most powerful productivity tool on the planet,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice-president of modern work and business applications at Microsoft.
“By grounding in your business content and context, Copilot delivers results that are relevant and actionable. It’s enterprise-ready, built on Microsoft’s comprehensive approach to security, compliance, privacy and responsible AI. Copilot marks a new era of computing that will fundamentally transform the way we work,” he added.
According to Microsoft, Copilot functionality in Word writes, edits and summarises documents; in PowerPoint, it supports the creative process by turning ideas into a presentation through natural language commands; and in Outlook, it helps people manage their inbox.
Copilot is also being embedded in Teams and the Power platform. In Teams, Copilot provides real-time summaries and action items directly in the context of the conversation. In the Power platform, Microsoft said Copilot would offer low-code tools with the introduction of two new capabilities within Power Apps and Power Virtual Agents.
One of the benefits of Microsoft’s efforts to embed ChatGPT into enterprises is that enterprise data is closed, and not subject to vagaries of the public internet that causes LLMs to produce erroneous results.
Earlier this year, Sean Spradling, a senior analyst at Wainhouse, wrote a blog looking at the opportunities of using ChatGPT in office productivity. In the post, he said having the data and the tools to turn that data into a work product is a great way to tie the Microsoft platform to business success and lock in customers.