Microsoft announced Copilot for Microsoft 365 in March 2023.
In this article, I'll take a look at what we know so far about what is being described as "the most powerful productivity tool on the planet".
What is Microsoft 365 Copilot?
Copilot is Microsoft’s development of artificial intelligence (AI) in the Microsoft suite of products. Including Excel.
But Microsoft says it's much more than OpenAI’s ChatGPT embedded into Microsoft 365. Copilot uses Microsoft's "Copilot system", a sophisticated processing and orchestration engine, to combine the power of Large Language Models (LLMs) with Microsoft 365 apps (Excel, Word, Outlook, etc) and your business data.
What does this mean for the average person on the street?
Well, rather a lot actually!
Watch this brief video on Copilot from Microsoft and you'll see what I mean.
I think you'll agree that this is pretty mind-blowing stuff!
How does Microsoft Copilot work?
Copilot is based on what Microsoft calls its "Copilot system".
The copilot system is the coming together of three core elements:
1. Microsoft 365 Apps
2. Microsoft Graph
3. Large Language Model (LLM)
[Image from Microsoft]
Microsoft 365 Apps
These are the core apps that we all know and love. Word, Teams, Powerpoint Excel and Outlook.
Microsoft Graph doesn't actually have anything to do with graphs - it's Microsoft's name for all of your information; Your data, files, emails, meetings, and calendar. This is what Copilot accesses and leverages through LLM.
Large Language Model
(LLM) is the engine that processes your information through natural language - that is to say words that we can easily understand rather than complex coding languages.
As a user, we will write a request in simple plain language within one of the apps. Copilot will then access and process your data in a number of steps through Microsoft Graph and LLM. Copilot then sends the response back through to the app.
As you would expect Microsoft is working hard to ensure that the AI is "responsible" and that security and privacy aren't compromised.
Semantic Index for Copilot
OK, sounds technical but bear with me!
In order for Copilot to work properly it needs an index (or log) of all of your data, files emails, etc. The "Semantic Index" is Microsoft's enterprise-level tool for creating a clear log of all of your data. This is what enables Copilot to whizz through your data in milliseconds and return useful results.
And just pause for a second to imagine how vast that file set will be in a corporate-sized business.
I haven't heard what the plan is for non-enterprise customers just yet, but I assume there will be a "professional" level and personal level version of Semantic Index.
Is Copilot going to steal my job?
This seems to be the question on everyone's minds when it comes to AI.
We are undoubtedly at the edge of the next significant revolution in terms of the way that we work.
Does this mean we will all lose our jobs?
You only have to look at the industrial revolution and digital revolution to see that this is not how it works. Life changes, and for some more than others, but overall we do not see mass unemployment. We just work differently.
In fact Microsoft Copilot in particular is likely to make our working lives a lot better by automating a lot of the trivial (and some non-trivial) tasks that we do.
Microsoft recently released the results of their "Work Trend Survey" of 31,000 people across 31 countries. It paints a picture of an ever-increasing pace and volume of work with employees struggling to keep up. Microsoft see Copilot as the tool to ease this burden.
“This new generation of AI will remove the drudgery of work and unleash creativity,”
Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO, Microsoft.
When will Copilot be released?
Copilot is currently in the testing phase. Microsoft says they will be releasing Copilot in “the months ahead”.
Microsoft has recently announced its Copilot Early Access Program.
They also say they will share more on pricing and licensing soon. They recommend getting a Microsoft 365 license in preparation for its release but it’s not clear yet whether it will be included within 365 or whether it would be at extra cost.
Our Future of Excel series
This series of articles focuses on new features soon to be released on Excel. This is based on announcements by the Microsoft Office Insider team.
See other articles in our Future of Excel series here.