Microsoft logo is displayed outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft is infusing generative AI tools into its Office software, including Word, Excel and Outlook emails.
Microsoft logo is displayed outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft is infusing generative AI tools into its Office software, including Word, Excel and Outlook emails. Image Credit: AP

If you ever wished you could speed through some of the more tedious tasks of your job, such as creating a PowerPoint presentation, analyzing the latest sales data or even getting caught up on what happened in meetings you missed, you could soon get some help with an AI tool.

Microsoft on Thursday unveiled Microsoft 365 Copilot, which embeds artificial intelligence into apps like Word, Outlook, Teams and Excel. The AI assistant combines natural language processing, based on OpenAI's ChatGPT technology, with Microsoft Office tools and capabilities to help workers automate or accelerate some of their more mundane work. Copilot is currently debuting with 20 enterprise customers, with the expectation of testing and tweaking the software. Microsoft said it expects to make it available to its larger user base in the coming months. It did not release details regarding whether the capabilities will come at an additional cost.

"We believe this next generation of AI will unlock a new wave of productivity," said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. This will happen with help from "copilots designed to remove the drudgery from our daily tasks and jobs."

The move follows the company's debut of the new version of its search engine Bing, which integrates the conversational AI tool, ChatGPT. It also comes just days after Google said that it's adding AI into its workplace software, Google Workspace.

But experts have cautioned that generative AI tools such as ChatGPT can introduce problems to work, as it can sometimes get facts wrong, misinterpret text or even generate content that doesn't make sense. They also caution people about sharing sensitive data with generative AI tools, which could then repurpose the data to train its tech.

With Microsoft 365 Copilot, we're giving people more agency and making technology more accessible with advanced AI and the most universal user interface: natural language.

- Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

In its demo of Copilot, Microsoft acknowledged that sometimes its AI might get things wrong or exclude important details, emphasizing that workers can choose to review, edit or even discard results produced by the tool. It also adds some citations that show which of your files or conversations it used for its answers and suggests prompts you may want use to continue working with Copilot. Microsoft said that Copilot follows the customer's security, compliance and privacy policies for Microsoft 365, and that it doesn't use company data to train its systems.

Here are some of the ways to use Copilot at work.

• Use business chat to work across apps


Workers who don't know where to start can turn to a new tool called business chat, which will work across Microsoft's apps and be embedded into Teams, on the Microsoft 365 website and in the new Bing platform for work.

You can prompt the chat to give you milestones of a project you're working on, and it will search across apps and documents to present you with answers, offering citations of where it got those answers, for example. You can then continue the conversation and ask it to summarize its answer or infer what risks might be related to the project. Then you can turn that into an action by asking the chat to draft an email to specific colleagues including the summary and risks. If you like the draft, you can click to make the chat open Outlook and transfer all the data to the right fields, so that the subject moves to the subject line and the content is automatically pasted into the body of the email.

Workers can also use Microsoft's collaborative chat tool Loop to create prompts for and work with the AI together as a group.

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• Draft documents, emails and speeches


Workers can prompt Microsoft Copilot to generate text on a specific topic in an Outlook email, in a Word document, in a Teams message or on OneNote. It will either pull from its library of information, which includes information from OpenAI's GPT technology as well as items or conversations within your Microsoft apps, or from the documents or materials you specify.

For example, you can tell Copilot to write a message on Teams, Microsoft's group chat and video tool, debriefing them on the latest customer interactions. From a drop-down menu, you can pick which documents have those interactions and add those to the prompt. Microsoft will then generate text. You can ask it to generate a new response, shorten it, change the style of communication to be more professional or casual, or include or exclude specific details. You can also manually edit the text Copilot gives you before sending it to the team.

• Quickly build PowerPoint presentations


You can also use Copilot to speed up how long it takes to build a PowerPoint presentation.

If you already have notes or a briefing saved in a Word document, you can ask Copilot to make a presentation based off the existing file or create a file based off your presentation. You can also prompt it to include images saved on Microsoft's cloud service, OneDrive. For example, if you wanted to create a presentation that includes the latest sales of your company's product, you could ask it to include images you saved of that product, and it will automatically drop them in. You can edit or remove anything that Copilot adds.

You can ask Copilot to include speaker notes, so that you have a script to follow when you give a presentation. You can also ask it to add transitions between slides, make slides more visual or add animations related to your topic to a slide.

• Get insights on Excel spreadsheets


On Excel, users can quickly analyze large data sets or zero in on specific data points.

So if workers have a spreadsheet showing this quarter's sales, they can ask Copilot to give them the key trends from the data. They can ask it to visualize what led to a sales decline, and Copilot will highlight key figures. They can also ask it to break down a specific month, and Copilot will create a new sheet further analyzing specific figures based on the original data. It can also create growth models for the future.

• Catch up on work communications


Workers can quickly get a recap of emails or meetings, even if they weren't there.

If you miss a meeting, you can ask Copilot to tell you to give you the key points, which it pulls from the meeting's transcript. You can also ask it to surface questions or comments made by a specific participant. And it can tell you what outstanding items are left and offer action items for the future. It can also help you prioritize your emails.

• Automate work flows


If workers wanted to ensure that their customer service colleagues were flagged on urgent issues, they could ask Copilot to automatically send a Teams message with a summary of an urgent customer complaint and tag specific people once that message is sent. In this case, the action will be triggered every time an urgent request is received.