News & Analysis

Copilot 365 – Way Beyond a Chatbot

Microsoft is gradually building in AI capabilities into its software suite that could potentially change the way office documents work

Imagine attending a meeting on Microsoft Teams and barely seconds after signing off receiving a summary of the meeting notes on your desktop? Well, Microsoft’s new AI-powered Copilot does just that and if one were to believe the company’s VP of design and research Jon Friedman, the future of office work is all set to change forever. 

Friedman believes that the future workplace would require futuristic computing and powering daily use software with artificial intelligence is just the beginning of an amazing journey. Microsoft has created quite a flashy video that shows off Copilot’s potential though in actuality one needs to put it into active use to figure out how it could be potentially life-changing. 

Changing the way an Office collaborates

What the Microsoft official says about new ways of computing and working with technology that is adaptive appears to come good with the new AI-powered Office suite. From the look of things, it does appear that Copilot 365 would definitely change the way we interact with software, create documents and do collaborative work in real time. 

Copilot appears on Office apps as an AI chatbot sitting on the sidebar. However, while writing a document, it could potentially glide into the page, highlighting a sentence or a paragraph with some suggestions thrown in. It’s a bit like spelling or grammar checks but with the ability to provide the author with multiple suggestions to rewrite the sentence or paragraph. What’s more, Copilot could even generate the rest of the document for you!

But, there’s more to Copilot than Smartness

By the way, if you thought Copilot just does the smart things, think again. For, it can be used to command Office apps. So, in case you want to change the color of all titles in a powerpoint deck from black to navy blue, all you need to do is say it. No need to go through powerpoint features and pick and choose stuff. 

And this is one feature that we love. On an Excel sheet, Copilot could generate a PivotTable, create a graph around the data or merely provide help in understanding the rows and columns of data. In fact, Friedman says, analyzing data could be the starting point of Copilot’s usage on the Excel sheet as it has the capability of teaching a user how to complete a command. 

Some old time users may recall Microsoft’s early vision of its Cortana Assistant though it must be said that what Copilot brings to the table today is way beyond what it had done in the past. In fact, the company has customized the chatbot-based system for every Office app, right from using it to write emails on Outlook, though users may not really take a great fancy out of the feature, having already seen it at work on Gmail. 

It goes well beyond the Cortana Assistant

However, where Copilot steals a march is that not only can Outlook help write the email, it can also summarize all emails on the go and generate drafts. What’s more, one can create complete Word documents without actually having to use the on-screen keyboard on that smartphone – quite a painstaking process if ever you’ve attempted it. 

Of course, one must keep in mind that this is still work-in-progress and large language models have failed in the past as a result of issues such as gender or racial bias. In fact, Microsoft has several warnings inside Copilot as one uses it. Powerpoint shows messages saying the content is generated by AI and may contain inaccuracies. And there are others too. 

From the point of view of Friendman, Microsoft expects users to help make the system better by sharing tools to report when they get inaccurate information or results. There is also the option of prompt suggestions that helps generate better prompts, which means everything that one does is somehow made conversational.

How the Bing challenge helped Copilot

Having witnessed the hallucinations of Microsoft Bing, the team working on Copilot appear to have put in added care to ensure that the chatbot plays its role – that of a copilot and does not take over the controls from the pilot, which is us. Friedman actually believes that lessons from Bing’s behavior has actually helped them mitigate risks on Copilot. 

The company is clear that Copilot isn’t perfect and may take some time getting there. There are issues to be fixed right away, the first one being how it responds to a voice command coming from the same person but through a poor quality microphone. Also, the future wouldn’t always be text-based generation of data, work needs to be done on images and videos too. 

Of course, Microsoft has already integrated OpenAI’s DALL-E model into its Designer app that allows users to generate images based on text. It can also help powerpoint select the best imagery for AI-generated slides. So, by the look of things, users of Office suite would have a constant companion to do things smarter while the human actually gets more creative. 

Leave a Response