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Microsoft Launches AI Copilot

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 2: The Microsoft logo is illuminated on a wall during a Microsoft launch event to introduce the new Microsoft Surface laptop and Windows 10 S operating system, May 2, 2017 in New York City. The Windows 10 S operating system is geared toward the education market and is Microsoft’s answer to Google’s Chrome OS. (P...

Microsoft finally unveiled its generative AI-powered assistant, and reviews seem to be mixed. Copilot will either revolutionize Office documents and the entire knowledge worker experience or ... not. ArsTechnica's Andrew Cunningham described it as an "omniscient version of Clippy," the much-maligned sentient paper clip.

In a blog post, Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President, Modern Work & Business Applications at Microsoft, wrote:

"Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot — your copilot for work. It combines the power of large language models (LLMs) with your data in the Microsoft Graph and the Microsoft 365 apps to turn your words into the most powerful productivity tool on the planet."

Spataro explained that Copilot is integrated into Microsoft 365 in two ways. It is embedded in Microsoft 365 apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Teams and also through a new feature called Business Chat. Business Chat works across the LLM, Microsoft 365 apps, and existing data from users' calendars, emails, chats, documents, meetings and contacts, Spataro explained in the post. It works via natural language prompts like, “Tell my team how we updated the product strategy,” and it will generate a status update based on the morning’s meetings, emails and chat threads, he wrote.

Copilot can automatically generate Outlook emails, Word documents, and PowerPoint decks, can automate data analysis in Excel, and can pull relevant points from the transcript of a Microsoft Teams meeting, among other features, Microsoft said.

Microsoft is currently testing Copilot "with 20 customers, including eight in Fortune 500 enterprises." The preview will be expanded to other organizations "in the coming months," but the company didn't mention when individual Microsoft 365 subscribers would be able to use the features. It's possible that Copilot will be sold as an add-on to Microsoft 365 subscriptions for an additional cost, as the company said it would "share more on pricing and licensing soon."

What could this mean for MSPs and SMBs? Obviously, management and maintenance for customers, but there are also implications for automating and streamlining an MSPs own workflows, making sales and marketing collateral, financial record-keeping, presentations and more.

While The Verge's Tom Warren seems quite enamored of the new features, his article does address the shortcomings of Copilot in particular and generative AI chatbots in general, including the potential for bias, generative AI's tendency to "hallucinate" and the need for human users to double-check AI-generated content for accuracy.

And, as Cunningham reported, "despite allegedly laying off an entire team dedicated to AI ethics, Microsoft says it has 'a multidisciplinary team of researchers, engineers and policy experts' looking for and mitigating 'potential harms' by 'refining training data, filtering to limit harmful content, query- and result-blocking sensitive topics, and applying Microsoft technologies like InterpretML and Fairlearn to help detect and correct data bias,'" the Ars Technica story said.

Microsoft has been pushing AI-powered features in all of its biggest products this year because of its billion-dollar partnership with OpenAI, the company that makes ChatGPT, the DALL-E image generator and Whisper transcription tool. The tech has shown up in Bing Chat preview, Skype and Windows 11, so far.