Following trials, Microsoft’s AI assistant ‘Copilot’, which can even attend meetings for you, will be generally available to all Microsoft 365 Enterprise customers from 1 November.
First introduced in March 2023 and rolled out as part free update to Windows 11, Copilot is an AI assistant that’s embedded within Microsoft 365 apps and services to help users save time, increase productivity, increase creativity, and essentially upskill themselves.
Created using ChatGPT version 4 and Microsoft Graph (an API developer platform that connects multiple services and devices), Copilot is natural language conversational (generative AI) chatbot that’s designed to give human-like responses (like ChatGPT) to questions and link aspects of all the 365 apps together in a new and more productive way. Microsoft summarises the purpose and benefits of this “everyday companion” as something that “Combs across your entire universe of data at work, including emails, meetings, chats, documents and more, plus the web” and “like an assistant, it has a deep understanding of you, your job, your priorities and your organisation.” Microsoft say it “goes far beyond simple questions and answers to give you a head start on some of your most complex or tedious tasks” and that you can “ask for what you want in natural language and the technology is smart enough to answer, create it or take action”.
Attends Meetings For You?
One of the features of Copilot that has been widely reported in the media is that it can essentially attend meetings for you by summarising meetings held in Teams for anyone who’s unable to attend. Microsoft says that using Copilot, you can “Follow a Teams meeting that you could not attend live, directly from Outlook on your own time”.
Copilot can make a summary of key discussion points of meetings, including who said what, where people are aligned and also where they disagree. It can suggest action items as well, all in real-time during a meeting. It can also recap meetings for you and send you the notes afterwards.
Many Other Capabilities
With Copilot embedded in all the 365 popular apps, some of its many other capabilities include summarising email threads, drafting emails, drafting documents (e.g. contracts and letters), creating presentations, and generating reports using data from different apps and sources, scheduling meetings, and managing project timelines, analysing, and sorting through data in excel (with Python), and much more. In short, it can both take away the donkey work of some tasks and save time, but it has the capacity to dramatically improve productivity and creativity, plus provide valuable new business insights, and improve competitiveness.
However, the fact that Copilot can carry out so many tasks (so well) on behalf of human users does present some challenges and has led to criticism from some commentators. For example:
– Businesses could become dangerously reliant on AI-powered assistance. For instance, what if there are disruptive technical problems with it or what if it’s hacked? Also, businesses may lose touch with some aspects of business and may put too much trust in a technology that is in its early stages and is known to make things up / get things wrong (e.g. AI ‘hallucinations’).
– Security and privacy concerns. Questions are being asked such as whether any data shared with it is secure/stored securely and/or used to train the AI model (Microsoft says it won’t be used to train). Microsoft says, however, that Copilot “includes enterprise-grade security, privacy, compliance, and responsible AI to ensure all data processing happens inside your Microsoft 365 tenant”.
– Its capabilities and widescale use could disrupt admin-based jobs.
– Its potential to lead to legal issues for business users, e.g. copyright infringement issues (even though AI companies have said they’ll cover the risk). For Microsoft, for example, it could fall foul of aspects of new AI laws (the EU AI Act) if it’s not compliant, such as if it’s not obvious or clear whether content has been created by humans or AI.
– If Copilot can attend meetings and provide a summary for users, this could affect company discipline and communication, e.g. people may simply not bother to attend when they should.
Copilot for Enterprise customers will be priced at $30 / £25 per month.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Microsoft’s going ‘all out’ with their AI and Copilot. After many announcements, it will be finally available to Microsoft 365 Enterprise customers from 1 November.
Those who have already used AI natural language chatbots (like ChatGPT) will know their value in saving time and boosting productivity in a user-friendly way so with Copilot embedded in 365’s apps, businesses will have an instant, flexible, and effective way to boost productivity, upskill staff in IT and get much more out the most popular apps in Microsoft 365. For those worried about how to get the best out of it (and with the time and inclination to learn about prompts), Microsoft will soon be integrating Copilot Lab, which teaches users how to make good prompts, into Copilot.
Although Copilot can carry out all manner of tasks for businesses, some critics have pointed out that an over-reliance on it could be risky and that the widescale use of AI like tools like Copilot could disrupt admin-based jobs. For Microsoft (which has invested heavily in in the development of AI), Copilot is a way to compete, stay ahead in the market, and provide a way to link all its apps together in an innovative and value-adding way. Microsoft’s 365 Copilot could be a potentially valuable tool for any business but as with any tool, if it’s not used effectively, businesses won’t get the value from it, therefore it’s going to be a case of experimenting to learn.
For Microsoft and other AI companies, new regulations for their AI tools lie ahead with the hope that Copilot and other AI tools provide adequate protection for users and businesses as well as delivering productivity benefits.