As more AI hoo-hah continues to pour from the hype machine of big tech, some of the puffed-up services are starting to become more accessible. Even if it’s still badged as “preview”, Bing’s AI chat is now more widely available and further functionality will be along soon.
Stepping onto the bandwagon before it fully departs, AI technology behind Google’s Bard chatbot is being embedded into Search, as announced at Google’s I/O conference, whose theme was all about how everything is being re-engineered to embrace generative AI. El Reg has neatly summarized the keynote here if you’re interested to learn more (“We sat through the Chocolate Factory’s PR blitz so you don’t have to”).
Google announced copilot-like functionality for its cloud productivity suite while Microsoft unveiled the M365 Copilot preview that’s been running for a few months, is being extended further.
Not all is rosy in the garden of AI, however. Distinguished scientist Geoffrey Hinton, a Turing Award winner and widely-described as “Godfather of AI”, has walked out of his Googly role amid concerns that AI will become sentient and enslave or kill us all. Interestingly, Hinton did not sign the Elon Musk-backed petition to halt AI development, effectively saying that if those currently working on it were to stop, others would pick up the baton. Microsoft’s chief scientist agrees.
Making AI pay for itself is one challenge that will need to be addressed, as the intensive computation required can be very expensive – costs of running ChatGPT are eye-watering, according to OpenAI’s boss, and reckoned by some to be in the region of $700K per day. Still, investors can’t get enough of it and OpenAI is piloting a $20/month ChatGPT Plus subscription.
The expanded M365 Copilot preview is a “paid-for” thing, and Microsoft’s Q3 earnings call did mention that Copilot will be additionally priced over and above whatever Office licenses a customer already has (though some AI related features will show up in E3/E5 licensed environments, such as the new Semantic Index which can be harnessed by Copilot but will be useful for giving more accurate search results even if Copilot is not in use).
Back in the present, there are some relatively new practical capabilities in both Bing AI and in the Edge browser’s discover feature, as discused in last week’s ToW. The Compose feature in the Sidebar lets you play with generating different types of written content, the kind of thing which will be integral to Copilot in all kinds of Office applications before long.
The Insights tab on the same Sidebar gives you more info on the page you’re currently looking at, from a summary of the key points of the page, to some background on where that site is accessed from, how likely it is to be reliable and more.
The core Bing AI search in a browser – in case you’re itchy about using Edge or its Bing Sidebar – has some new capabilities, especially the integration of Bing Image Creator, which is available separately from the AI chat function.
Another one of OpenAI’s groovy tools – Dall-E – generates images based on a text description, and Bing AI chat can feed directly into that.
The image generation capability is now multi-lingual (with over 100 languages supported). It will also soon be possible to upload images to Chat, so you could ask it questions about what’s in the image.
The Edge browser has seen a lot of change in its life. Originally conceived as a successor to Internet Explorer, with its own modern web rendering engine and lots of additional features which are designed to complement the usage experience, like taking handwritten notes on top of a webpage or building a Reading List of pages or publications to come back to.
Later, the decision was taken to replace the browser with one based on a new core using Chromium, largely for reasons of compatibility and performance, but to carry on building new capability that would differentiate the new Edge browser from others that also use the Chromium rendering engine, including Google Chrome itself.
Recent builds of Edge have a Sidebar which includes a load of apps and integrations – the goal being that it can help multitask on the web by sharing complementary information or functionality alongside the page the user is looking at; think a shopping widget that would compare prices of the product on the page you’re viewing, showing where else you could buy that same thing.
A recent update to the Sidebar has been the inclusion of the new Bing search, which adds some very cool relevance capabilities that would allow you to fire the current page content straight at the Bing’s AI engine to summarize, rewrite or explain the contents – selected text, or the entire page you’re visiting.
Here’s an example of a reasonably detailed blog article (from early 2021) summarized into a few key paragraphs:
One of the more useful integrations in the Sidebar is the Outlook app (individual icons on the Sidebar can be enabled and disabled through the settings option; you can also dock other sites which will appear in the sidebar, though not necessarily with the context of the page you’re currently looking at). A recent – and somewhat controversial – change means that when you click a link from an email in desktop Outlook on a PC, it will open in Edge and the Outlook sidebar will be shown alongside, displaying the email that you clicked it from.
Once you’ve got the hang of this feature, it’s actually pretty cool – especially if the email is offering some context about what you’re supposed to be doing on that page, or if it’s a densely-packed missive full of clickbait and other nonsense:
Why is it controversial? Well, the point is that the extra functionality is happening due to the Sidebar in Edge, so clicking a link in Outlook if you’re using a different default browser wouldn’t have the same effect. Outlook, therefore, has decided to send links to Edge even if that’s not your usual browser, to the chagrin of some netizens. Be careful with doing things that annoy some people.
If you’d prefer that Outlook and Windows respected your choice to send all your links to a specific, non-Edge, browser, then it’s fairly easy (if not exactly easily discoverable) to set that. Go to File | Options | Advanced within Outlook, and look for the Link Handling option, and change it to Default Browser. This will mean opening the hyperlink in Chrome / Brave / Firefox / whatever, without the Sidebar doing its thing.
If you like Edge but would rather dispense with the Sidebar altogether, go to the “…” menu on the top right, select Settings | Sidebar and disable the Always show sidebar toggle.
To add or hide apps on the sidebar, just show it, right-click on something and choose Customize sidebar, or use the “Add or remove apps…” feature from the Settings | Sidebar screen.
If you’d rather not to have the somewhat prominent Bing icon on the very top right of your Edge screen, look under the Discover section of this Settings UI, and if you flick the switch, the big blue b goes away.
UK telly viewers in the early noughties may recall the surreal comedy show, Trigger Happy TV, with recurring characters like the aggressive squirrels or the guy with the massive phone (and that Nokia ring tone).
It was also known for some great soundtracks, like the fantastically titled Grandaddy song “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” (also used elsewhere). Tech news over recent weeks tells us that the pilot – or Copilot – is anything but dumb, even if it can be simple.
For Microsoft watchers, “Copilot” is a growing set of capabilities which are being built to add OpenAI functionality to other applications. With all the hoo-hah about ChatGPT and the generative AI that is now integrated into Bing (and available for everyone who wants it, not just early adopters), it’s easy to get different strands mixed up.
GPT-3 and now GPT-4 are the core language models which could underpin any number of applications’ use of what looks like artificial intelligence. ChatGPT is one web app built to hone some of the parameters of GPT-3 and put a chatbot front end to it. The new Bing and all the other stuff announced over the last few weeks is not using ChatGPT, but they do share some of the same technology underneath. Capisce?
There have been AI features aimed at making developers’ lives easier, such as Github Copilot (available since 2021), which uses another OpenAI tool called Codex, itself built to harness GPT-3. For developers on Power Platform, there have been AI functions for years too, though some capability has been recently added.
Everyday users of Dynamics 365 and Office applications will soon get Copilot capabilities to help automate boring tasks, like “work”. Do bear in mind that announcing something and making something available – in limited preview form or generally – are different activities. Copilot for Office apps like Outlook might be a few weeks or months away for most of us, but who can’t wait for AI to automatically read and reply to all their emails?
The future with our robot overlords never looked so appealing.
For a growing summary of Copilot announcements, see the hugely popular LinkedIn post from Jack Rowbotham.
What has a hazlenut in every bite? That’s right, a Topic from the British sweetie shop of yesteryear, and nothing at all to do with what’s near Tufty’s nest. Sadly discontinued last year, due to falling demand, there’s no accounting for taste.
Topics are still available today to users of Microsoft 365, as a way of curating certain scraps of knowledge that they can share with other users within the same organization. The very first version of Microsoft SharePoint (codenamed “Tahoe”) had a capability that aimed to do much the same thing – “Best Bets” were a way for an administrator to guide the search experience so that if someone ran a query for a term, rather than returning hundreds of old PowerPoint files that contain that word, it would take the searcher to a more official site.
Viva Topics – because everything is getting Vivafied just as in the days of Tahoe, every other product had Live and/or .NET in its name – is part of a growing family of “employee experience” offerings; it’s an addon to even the top flight
Office Microsoft 365 subscription, but adds AI-powered discovery as well as the means to manually curate things.
After deploying Topics and assigning licenses to the appropriate users, topic pages can be automatically created based on the documents that exist already – the Search and underlying Graph services can identify subjects that look like are active, with people contributing to them through documents, conversations and so on. Codenames or location names, for example, could be quickly identified and suggested.
A Knowledge Manager could also be assigned to create or approve new pages; individual users could be empowered to do it themselves, though that might end up in something of a mess. Best practice would be to have some kind of form or email-based request, where a user would ask for a topic page to be created and they would then own the content within.
Discovery is pretty easy – depending on how it’s set up, if the title of a topic is mentioned on a SharePoint site, it can be automatically highlighted on a pop-up card with which will give a summary of the topic, and a link to more the main page which contains furtherinformation.
Topic pages themselves can be full of useful info; a search for documents or other pages that the SharePoint environment behind the scenes considers to be related, as well as specifically curated sources of information, contact cards for the people who are managing the project or involved with the customer, links to docs or other websites etc.
Within Office apps like Word or Outlook, if the user highlights a word or phrase and chooses to Search for it, a sidebar in Office will run a search online and across internal sites for that word – this is avialable to everyone, with or without Topics deployed.
If Topics has been configured and the searched for term is a topic (or is one of the topic’s synonyms, or is otherwise related), then the user will see it fairly prominently in the search results.
If you’ve ever used PowerPoint to present to a group of people, you’ll be familiar with the Slide Show menu to some degree; unless you’re the annoying would-be presenter merely mirroring your primary screen and flicking through their slides without going into the full-screen slide show mode.
When they do it properly, you’ll often see presenters kick off by fishing about with their mouse to click on the little slide-show icon in the toolbar on the bottom. It’s usually quicker to just hit F5 to start, or Shift+F5 to start from the currently-selected slide.
Unfortunately, it’s still pretty common to then see the speaker be surprised because the config of their displays isn’t what they expect – especially the case if they’re sharing their screen on a online meeting, but their laptop is also connected to more than one monitor.
PowerPoint will typically be set up to use Presenter View by default, and the screen that’s being shared will be showing the speaker notes / next slides etc, while the full-screen content is being displayed on the 2nd monitor that isn’t being shared.
To the right of the Monitor setup for presenter view, you may also see an intriguing option that has been added to PowerPoint – automatic subtitling, and translation too. It’s part of the ongoing Office 365 servicing that brings updates on a regular basis.
Choose the language you’d like to display, the location of the subtitles and when you start presenting, the machine will listen to every word you say and will either display what it thinks you’ve said in your own language, or it can use an online service to translate to subtitles in over 60 languages.
There’s an older add-in which achieves much the same thing, if you’re not using O365 – see here for more info. The Presentation Translator addin also allows the audience to follow along and even interact with the presenter using the Microsoft Translator app on their phone.
Windows has a closed captioning setting page that applies to other apps that support it, too, if you’d like to show subtitles on video that has the content already defined.
Closed Captioning is legislated by several countries, for traditionally-broadcast media as well as online video.
You may also want to add captions to videos that you plan to embed – more, here.
By asking Cortana to remind you of something, she’ll add it to your Outlook Tasks and To-Do reminders – if you’re set up that way – and you can manage lists within the To-Do app itself, or access the same To-Do Lists or Reminders from within the Cortana Notebook.
You don’t even need to go into the Cortana UI (or say “Hey Cortana”) to add things to be reminded – any app that implements Share functionality, like the Edge browser’s Share page toolbar command – will let you target Cortana Reminders.
You can set a reminder time, which will then sync to Outlook Tasks and on to To-Do, if you’ve set up Office 365 or Outlook.com integration, and will trigger a reminder using those mechanisms (get ready for toast overload…) Alternatively, get Cortana to ping you when you arrive at a place or next talk with a known contact.
Cortana’s past tells a good story, and her future is changing somewhat – after deciding to stop positioning her as a potential competitor to Amazon Alexa or Google assistants, a forthcoming release of Windows 10 will break the bond between Windows Search & Cortana, and the voice prompts from Cortana during Windows Setup will be silenced when installing a non-Home version of Windows too.
Artificial Intelligence has been dreamt of for decades, where machines will be as smart – or maybe smarter – than humans. AI in popular consciousness is not just a rubbish film, but if you’re a brainless tabloid journalist, then it means Siri and Alexa (assuming you have connectivity, obvs … and hope there’s no Human Stupidity that forgot to renew a certificate or anything), and AI is also about the robots that are coming to kill us all.
Of course, many of us know AI as a term used to refer to a host of related technologies, such as speech and natural language recognition, visual identification and machine learning. For a great example on practical and potentially revolutionary uses of AI, see Dr Chris Bishop’s talk at Future Decoded 2018 – watch day 1 highlights starting from 1:39, or jump to 1:50 for the example of the company using machine learning to make some world-changing medical advances.
Back in the mundane world for most of us, AI technologies are getting more visible and everyday useful – like in OneDrive, where many improvements including various AI investments are starting to show up.
One simple example is image searching – if you upload photos to consumer OneDrive (directly from your phone perhaps), the OneDrive service will now scan images for text that can be recognized… so if you took a photo of a receipt for expenses, OneDrive might be able to find it if you can remember what kind of food it was.
There’s also a neat capability where OneDrive will try to tag your photos automatically – just go into www.onedrive.com and look under Photos, where you’ll see grid of thumbnails of your pictures arranged by date, but also the ability to summarise by album, by place (from the geo-location of your camera phone) or by Tag. You can edit and add your own, but it’s an interesting start to see what the visual search technology has decided your photos are about… not always 100% accurately, admittedly…
More AI goodness is to come to Office 365 and OneDrive users in the near future – automatically transcribing content from videos stored online (using the same technology from the Azure Video Indexer and Microsoft Stream), to real-time PowerPoint captions. Watch this space… and mind the robots.
Microsoft has a habit of over-pivoting to use the same terminology for lots of different things, sometimes even giving the same name to related but quite specifically different things. Think OneDrive / OneDrive for Business, OneNote / OneNote for Windows 10, Skype / Skype for Business, Teams and Teams (work account) etcetera. At times in the past, everything was seemingly appended with “.NET”, or given a name starting “Windows…” “Live…” or “One…” (or all three).
With all the hoo-hah in recent months about “Copilot”, it can be confusing to pin down exactly what it is – a search engine, chatbot, a tool to write code, or something that will draw pictures while summarizing your email?
… and the Edge browser integrated Copilot panel, activated by the icon in the top right. Preview versions of Windows have a Copilot button on the taskbar with the ability to tweak things inside the operating system. New PCs will soon have a Copilot button on their keyboard.
There are other “Copilot” things coming out all the time. Want some help in writing a Power Automate cloud flow to integrate stuff between systems? If you’re a salesperson, Copilot in Dynamics Sales lessens the drudgery of keeping CRM up to date. Or if you’re a developer, Github can help you write better code, more quickly. Some are free and some need you to subscribe to.
It’s very likely that these things come from different sets of technologies under the hood, though Microsoft is increasingly talking about there being a “Copilot platform” behind each of these experiences. Things are certainly moving quickly – as BizApps MVP Steve Mordue commented in his chat with Charles Lamanna. Expect the effect of AI on regular applications to move from being an addon or a side panel, to fundamentally changing the apps we use – why build a BI dashboard if you can just ask the questions you need or even have the information suggested to you?
Copilot Pro and Copilot in M365
The recently-launched Copilot for Microsoft 365 integrates priority access to some of the public web services (akin to ChatGPT Plus), and adds in-app integration with Microsoft 365 and Office applications, promising also to be able to put the back end magic to work across your own organization’s data too. It’s been in preview for a while, for certain customers – initially it was invite-only for some of the biggest (who still had to pay for it) but recently has been extended to anyone with a Microsoft 365 Business subscription.
Somewhat confusingly, Microsoft at the same time announced “Copilot Pro”, which is really for individuals and integrates with Microsoft 365 personal or family subscriptions, for a monthly fee of $20 (or £19 – forex, huh… though the USD amount doesn’t include tax whereas the GBP one does).
If you’re not a Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscriber you won’t see a lot of the value which Copilot Pro adds, on top of the GPT-4 Turbo and DALL-E 3 usage. If you are already using a M365 home subscription, then for your £19/month you’ll see Copilot functionality showing up in the desktop and web versions of the Office apps. (NB – that’s £19 per user; note that the £8/month you might pay for M365 family gets you up to 6 people… they’d each need to be enrolled into Copilot Pro if you wanted all to get the benefit, so it could work out quite expensive).
Select a block of text or a page in OneNote and you can summarize it or build a To-Do list on what actions it might contain. Word shows a little Copilot icon on the left of the text editing block, and will offer to draft some text or rewrite what’s already there.
Excel’s analytical Copilot is still in preview (and works on files already saved in OneDrive/Sharepoint only), while PowerPoint offers some frankly amazing abilities to generate fluff from thin air, or jazz up the dreary text-laden slides you might already have.
Buying and deploying Copilot for Microsoft 365 business users – available to small business users on Business Standard or Premium, or Enterprise users who have E3 or E5 licenses – is something an organizational admin would need to control, so if you’re an end user then you’ll need to wait until they decide you’re worth it.
The business version (priced at £30 per month, inc VAT) gives you everything that Copilot Pro does, and also access to your own organization’s date, and, integration with Teams, where Copilot can prepare summaries of meetings you have, or offer a chatbot that can find other information in different sources.
Should I buy it?
Of course, the free Copilot experience can be very useful, but it’s not integrated into the Office apps at all.
If you’re an Office apps user and have a M365 family or personal subscription, then it’s worth taking a look at Copilot Pro – the first monthly subscription of £19/$20 will give you a chance to have a proper play with Copilot functionality, and then decide to keep it going or cancel the subscription and it’ll expire at the end of the month. It might even give you an idea – as an end user – what Copilot for M365 could give you, and thus petition the powers that be to enable it for your M365 org.
One downside of the M365 business Copilot licensing model is that, although it works out at $30/£30 per month (give or take), it’s an annual commitment which must be paid up front. So if you’re looking to kick the tyres, try the $20/£19 a month Pro first.