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Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks during the opening keynote session at the Microsoft Developer Day in Singapore, on Friday, May 27, 2016. Microsoft has all but abandoned the smartphone game. The company said Wednesday that it will axe as many as 1,850 jobs, many of them in Finland — home base of the handset business Microsoft acquired two years ago from Nokia Oyj. Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Microsoft is bringing generative artificial intelligence technologies like the popular ChatGPT chatting app to its Microsoft 365 suite of business software.

The enterprise technology giant said Thursday that the new A.I. features, dubbed Copilot, will be available in some of the company’s most popular business apps like Word, PowerPoint and Excel.

The Copilot technology is built upon a type of artificial intelligence software known as a large language model, or LLM. Researchers have improved the capabilities of LLMs in recent years to become more capable of understanding and responding to text.

The technology industry has been captivated by the rise of generative artificial intelligence technologies, best exemplified by LLMs that can do tasks like creating images based on written prompts and carrying on extended conversations with people via chat interfaces.

“Today marks the next major step in the evolution of how we interact with computing, which will fundamentally change the way we work and unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “With our new copilot for work, we’re giving people more agency and making technology more accessible through the most universal interface—natural language.”

Microsoft is pitching the Copilot features as being more powerful than simply being “OpenAI’s ChatGPT embedded into Microsoft 365,” the company said in an announcement. The company said that the new Copilot in Word feature will give people a “first draft to edit and iterate on—saving hours in writing, sourcing, and editing time.”

However, Microsoft added that “Sometimes Copilot will be right, other times usefully wrong,” acknowledging that current LLM technology can produce inaccurate responses. For instance, the company’s recent debut of a new generative AI-powered Bing chat tool sometimes produced responses containing factual inaccuracies and occasionally eerie dialogue.

Microsoft executives demonstrated some of the capabilities of its Copilot tool on Thursday during an online presentation.

Family members can more quickly create celebration plans and generate accompanying PowerPoint slides that use imagery spooled from a person’s Microsoft OneDrive storage account for compelling visuals. Business leaders can more easily create emails and send business proposals using the new tools, Microsoft said.

Jared Spataro, a Microsoft corporate vice president of modern work and business applications, said that Copilot is able to scan and take actions based on all the data from the Microsoft Graph, which stores content like emails, file meetings, chats and calendar notes. This Microsoft Graph data helps make Copilot’s underlying large language model generate more specific and improved responses tailored to an individual.

Microsoft did not say specifically when the new AI copilot features would debut and what the pricing would be, only to say that “In the months ahead, we’re bringing Copilot to all our productivity apps—Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, Viva, Power Platform, and more.”

The company added that its testing Copilot “with a small group of customers to get feedback and improve our models as we scale,” but did not disclose the name of the customers testing the software. A Microsoft spokesperson added in an email that the company “is testing Copilot with 20 customers, including eight in the Fortune 500.”

Jaime Teevann, a chief scientist and technical fellow at Microsoft, said that Copilot passed several privacy checks and has “mitigations in place” in the case the software “gets things wrong or has biases or is misused.”

“We’re going to make mistakes, but when we do, we’ll address them quickly,” Teevann said.

Much of the excitement over generative AI is due to the seemingly overnight success of the ChatGPT tool, which was released by the Microsoft-backed AI firm OpenAI in late November.

Microsoft said in January that it would provide OpenAI a multiyear and multibillion dollar investment, but did not disclose the precise figure.   

In February, Microsoft debuted a new version of its Bing search engine that included a chatbot powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4 language technology.

OpenAI publicly revealed its GPT-4 software earlier this week, pitching the technology as a significant improvement over its predecessor, GPT-3, that can produce more creative and accurate text responses.

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