The tech company previewed a new AI “co-pilot” for Microsoft 365, its suite of products that includes Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and Outlook emails. First open to about 20 companies for testing, AI will deliver draft in those apps, speeding up content creation and freeing up time for workers, Microsoft said.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company, outperforming its peers with investments in ChatGPT creator OpenAI, also showcased a new “enterprise chat” experience that can pull data and perform tasks in apps on the written order from a user.
“We believe this next generation of AI will unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said in an online presentation.
Microsoft’s stock price rose about 4% on the news.
The pace of developments this week, including new funding for AI startup Adept, reflects how businesses large and small are locked in fierce competition to deploy software that could reshape the way people working.
At the center are Microsoft and Google-owner Alphabet, which on Tuesday touted AI features for Gmail and a “Magic wand” to write prose in its own word processor. The features presented by Microsoft and Google are similar.
The frenzy of investment and new product creation began with the launch last year of ChatGPT, the chatbot sensation that showed the public the potential of so-called big language models.
Such technology learns from past data how to create content again. It evolved rapidly. This week only, OpenAI began releasing a more powerful version known as GPT-4. This partly underpins Microsoft’s Copilot functionality, as well as an older GPT-3.5 model, business and application data, Microsoft said.
The new features – offered through Microsoft’s cloud – are poised to attract business and reverse slowing revenue growth, said RBC analyst Rishi Jaluria.
The co-pilot “will lead to increased usage of Microsoft Office and increase separation from competitors,” Jaluria said.
TAKE NOTES FOR YOU
One of the company’s biggest updates on Thursday was in Excel.
Microsoft said AI can open up its spreadsheet computing magic, long the domain of skilled analysts, to anyone who can describe a calculation they want in plain text.
Similar to the live notes Google showed reporters this week, Microsoft said its co-pilot can summarize virtual meetings as they happen in its Teams collaboration software.
In an interview, Jon Friedman, vice president of Microsoft, demonstrated this ability. The co-pilot generated bullet points summarizing questions posed by Reuters, including whether Microsoft can deploy the technology cost-effectively.
Large language models require a lot of computing power and costs run.
Friedman said Microsoft will make the deployment work in a cost-effective way.
The copilot summed up his response thus, during the interview: “Microsoft is working to reduce the cost and increase the speed and fidelity of the models, but did not disclose the price or the fatigue of the copilot system.” (It meant “tiering”.)
To refine the technology and ensure its answers are factual, Microsoft is testing Copilot with select customers before a wider rollout, Friedman said. “[An] The amazing thing about big language models is that they’re very trusting and they get it wrong,” Friedman added.
Friedman pointed to Microsoft’s business chat experience as the biggest development on Thursday because it can handle tasks between apps. For example, a user can ask, “Tell my team how we updated the product strategy,” and the AI will pick up from a morning of emails, meetings, and threads, a said Microsoft.
Longer term, Friedman said, the vision is more personalized AI.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin.)