AI Powered Microsoft 365 Copilot Shows Off Impressive Capabilities

Microsoft this week demonstrated how its natural language AI capabilities in Microsoft 365 Copilot will widely extend across the company's products and services.

The Microsoft 365 Copilot unveiling comes just days after OpenAI, the generative AI firm in which Microsoft owns a 49 percent share, announced the availability of the next iteration of its natural language AI chatbot. While Microsoft has already integrated ChatGPT into its Azure cloud, as well as in its Bing search engine and Edge browser, Microsoft 365 Copilot promises to embed natural language querying capabilities into ubiquitous Microsoft 365 apps like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Teams. (A limited preview of the Copilot capabilities are already available for sales professionals via Dynamics 365 and Viva Sales.)

In a livestreamed presentation Thursday announcing Microsoft 365 Copilot, CEO Satya Nadella positioned it as a turning point in computer-user interactions. For years, he said AI has been working "behind the scenes" in things like search engines, auto-correct and recommendation lists. "You can say we've been using AI on autopilot," Nadella said. The new generation of AI -- specifically, natural language and generative AI -- will let users run it "on co-pilot."    

"We believe this next generation of AI will unlock a new wave of productivity growth," he said.  

The demos on Thursday showed how a user can prompt Microsoft 365 Copilot to, in minutes or seconds:

  • Create a highly personalized slide deck in PowerPoint.
  • Highlight relevant data in an Excel sheet in response to a question.     
  • Create a customized marketing document, as well as a corresponding PowerPoint presentation (with presenter notes).
  • Summarize a Teams meeting and identify calls to action.

Microsoft executives stressed several times during the presentation that Microsoft 365 Copilot is not infallible. Sometimes, it will "be usefully wrong," as Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jared Spataro put it. In many of the examples shown, the user chose to manually make edits, corrections or stylistic changes to the file that Copilot generated. In the case of the marketing document, Sumit Chauhan, head of Microsoft's Office product group, cautioned: "Now remember -- you're not going to send this off to a customer without a review."

Microsoft 365 Copilot harnesses large language models (LLMs) like the ones used by ChatGPT with the Microsoft Graph API. It's powered by the Copilot System, which Spataro described in the presentation as "a sophisticated processing and orchestration engine." He elaborated in a blog post:

Copilot is more than OpenAI's ChatGPT embedded into Microsoft 365. It's a sophisticated processing and orchestration engine working behind the scenes to combine the power of LLMs, including GPT-4, with the Microsoft 365 apps and your business data in the Microsoft Graph -- now accessible to everyone through natural language. 

Alongside Microsoft 365 Copilot, Microsoft debuted a brand-new feature on Thursday called Business Chat, which Spataro described in the presentation as a "knowledge navigator" that users can access from Teams, Bing or He also described Business Chat in greater detail in his blog:

Business Chat works across the LLM, the Microsoft 365 apps, and your data -- your calendar, emails, chats, documents, meetings and contacts -- to do things you've never been able to do before. You can give it 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. 

Thursday's presentation included only a very brief discussion about the safeguards that Microsoft has built into Copilot. Citations are included in Copilot, according to Jon Friedman, head of design and research at Microsoft, as well as ways for users to give feedback when Copilot gets something wrong. "Our goal is to give people agency," Friedman said. "You always have the option to use, discard, adjust or undo."  

Copilot has "mitigations" in place against mistakes, biases and misuse, said Chief Microsoft Scientist Jamie Teevan, though she didn't describe these mitigations in great detail during the presentation. "Every Copilot feature has passed privacy checks ... and is monitored in real time," she said. "We're going to make mistakes, but when we do, we'll address them quickly."    

Spataro provided more information on the security and privacy angles on his blog. Copilot has two-factor authentication enabled, and will fall in line with the Microsoft 365 security, compliance and privacy policies that a company already has in place. It also has protections against data leakage, he wrote:

Copilot LLMs are not trained on your tenant data or your prompts. Within your tenant, our time-tested permissioning model ensures that data won't leak across user groups. And on an individual level, Copilot presents only data you can access using the same technology that we've been using for years to secure customer data. 

Notably, a key ethical AI team within Microsoft underwent significant cuts and a reorg this month. However, Spataro indicated in his blog that Microsoft has a dedicated team that monitors Copilot -- and other Microsoft AI systems -- for potential unethical misuse:

A multidisciplinary team of researchers, engineers and policy experts reviews our AI systems for potential harms and mitigations -- 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. We make it clear how the system makes decisions by noting limitations, linking to sources, and prompting users to review, fact-check and adjust content based on subject-matter expertise. 

Currently, Microsoft 365 Copilot is in very limited private testing. Microsoft intends to roll it out "in the months ahead," according to Spataro. Pricing and licensing details are still to come. A particular point of interest will be how Microsoft 365 Copilot will affect the recently launched Teams Premium SKU, which already has ChatGPT integrations and is available as an add on for E3 and E5 subscribers.