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Microsoft Copilot: A Tour

Microsoft Copilot: A Tour

What is Microsoft Copilot?

Microsoft Copilot is an LLM-powered AI assistant embedded across Microsoft software including its 365 productivity apps Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Teams. Copilot AI assistance features are designed to boost productivity and creativity by providing a natural language interface to knowledge, insights and workflows in Microsoft products. 

After initially productizing OpenAI’s LLM technology via GitHub Copilot, Microsoft continued its foray into copilots, debuting Bing Chat for AI-assisted browsing in February 2023 followed by 365 Copilot in September. Microsoft has since positioned these as parts of a single, unified ‘Microsoft Copilot’ experience that runs across its product portfolio and continues to announce new Copilot product integrations and features.

How is Microsoft Copilot experienced?

Copilot has been announced across numerous Microsoft products including the following familiar applications.

Copilot (Bing Chat)

Formerly known as Bing Chat or Bing Chat Enterprise, Copilot is a chat-based AI assistant that can answer questions and create content using real-time internet search to inform its responses. Copilot is accessible at the Copilot microsite, through Bing search on the web and the Bing mobile app, and through the Microsoft Edge browser sidebar on the web and Edge mobile app. Individuals with a Microsoft account can subscribe to Copilot Pro for accelerated performance and to unlock Copilot in 365 applications.

Copilot in 365 applications

Copilot is embedded within desktop and mobile Microsoft 365 application experiences including Word, Teams, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Loop and Whiteboard:

Word: Copilot appears within Word as a ‘Draft with Copilot’ interface for generating new text, or as a Copilot icon to the left of highlighted text which expands into options for transforming existing text, for example by rewriting or reformatting it into a table. ‘Reference your content’ options allow for selection of up to 3 existing files in which to ground the Copilot’s knowledge for producing output. Users can also open a Chat interface to ask questions, generate summaries, or brainstorm and collaborate with Copilot on the contents of a document.

In the below example, I ask Copilot to draft a business plan for an NFL football game oriented home catering company and then summarize the business plan so I can use it later with Copilot in Powerpoint.

Powerpoint: Copilot appears within Powerpoint as a sidebar chat interface where users can ask Copilot to draft a new presentation, summarize an existing presentation, or modify an existing presentation, for example by restructuring or adding imagery and branding to slides. Copilot can also answer questions about the contents of a presentation and provide general knowledge, for example tips and best practices for presenting visual content.

In the below example, I take the summary of the NFL football game home catering company business plan and use it as input for Copilot to generate a presentation. Note that one of the more interesting prompt patterns, ‘Create presentation from <fileName>, wasn’t available in my Microsoft 365 Personal subscription at the time of this blog’s publication.

Excel: Copilot appears with Excel as a sidebar chat interface to help users explore and understand data in Excel. Copilot can analyze and modify existing data as well as create or suggest new data including formulas, tables and charts.  Copilot in Excel includes a prompt guide to help users understand what’s possible.

In the below example, I take a CSV of performance stats for NFL quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy (generated by ChatGPT) which has been uploaded to Microsoft Excel and ask Copilot to generate new formulas and insights from the data.

Outlook: Copilot appears within Outlook as a ‘Draft with Copilot’ interface for drafting email or a ‘Summary by Copilot’ interface for summarizing existing emails and threads.  Copilot in Outlook can also provide summaries, feedback and suggestions on user-drafted emails, for example to adjust wording or tone.

In the below example, I ask Copilot to draft an email to my team inviting them to a Super Bowl party at my house, and then use the Coaching by Copilot feature to provide some feedback on how I could improve it in terms of tone, clarity, etc.

Teams: Copilot appears within Teams as a sidebar interface where users can chat privately with Copilot to ask questions, extract information, and request summaries about meeting content, including the meeting’s chat. Copilot can also provide users with relevant information and files from outside Teams. Note: Copilot for Teams wasn’t available in the author’s Microsoft 365 subscription at the time of this blog’s publication.

Copilot is also experienced separately through an independent chat interface, Microsoft 365 Chat, that works across 365 apps – grounded in collective application, user and organizational data – to help with organizational knowledge and creativity tasks. Use-cases include providing summaries of meetings and documents, drafting content, and quickly delivering answers and information.

Also included with Copilot for 365, Copilot Studio is a standalone low-code tool for customizing Copilot in 365 applications. It allows customers to define triggers for specific copilot responses including the use of specific data sources and taking custom actions in connected applications through plug-ins to APIs. It also enables the creation of new copilots and ChatGPT-like applications from scratch and deploying them into an array of Microsoft and 3rd party applications and websites.

Elsewhere in its portfolio, Microsoft announced Copilot in Microsoft Fabric including Power BI, Copilot in Microsoft’s Power platform for low-code development including Power Apps and Power Automate, Copilot in Microsoft CRM and ERP products, Security Copilot, and Copilot in Windows OS including a new dedicated Copilot key for the Windows PC keyboard. It’s worth mentioning that Microsoft also positions GitHub Copilot as part of its greater Copilot portfolio for developers.

How does Microsoft Copilot work?

Microsoft describes Copilot as an AI assistant powered by LLMs that are leveraged across Microsoft’s entire technology platform. For this explanation we’ll focus on how Copilot works with 365 applications. For a concise video overview, check out the video from Microsoft, embedded below.

To provide real-time intelligent assistance to 365 users, Microsoft Copilot orchestrates information transfer and processing across three main technologies:

  • Microsoft 365 apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, etc.)
  • the Microsoft Graph (data and context from emails, files, meetings, chats, and calendar) and Semantic Index, a sophisticated knowledge map of data in the Graph
  • and Azure OpenAI, Microsoft’s private instance of OpenAI’s LLM technology. 

Microsoft Copilot operates in the following steps:

  • Step 1: A user request, or ‘prompt’, is entered through a Copilot user interface.
  • Step 2: Copilot accesses the Microsoft Graph and Semantic Index for pre-processing the prompt by “grounding” it in business specific context and information.  
  • Step 3: The modified prompt is sent to the LLM.
  • Step 4: Copilot receives a generated response back from the LLM.
  • Step 5: Copilot post-processes the response including grounding it via calls to the Microsoft Graph and Semantic Index as well as making Responsible AI, security and compliance checks. It can also generate executable commands.
  • Step 6: Copilot sends the response back to the 365 app.

Microsoft Copilot availability and pricing

Announcements covering the many integrations of Copilot across Microsoft products have been frequent across various Microsoft blogs, press releases and events in the past several months, with no signs of slowing. We particularly enjoyed seeing Microsoft Copilot make a splash during Super Bowl LVIII!

Microsoft Copilot is generally available and can be accessed freely at the Copilot microsite, through Bing search on the web and the Bing mobile app, and through the Microsoft Edge browser sidebar on the web and the Edge mobile app.

Copilot for 365 applications was generally available for enterprise customers on November 1, 2023. It’s provided for an additional $30 per user per month with a Microsoft 365 E3 or E5 license. Copilot for non-enterprise 365 subscriptions is now available to users with a Copilot Pro subscription which is $20 user/month.

Please research the latest online for pricing and availability of additional Microsoft Copilot related products and experiences.

Microsoft Copilot: an AI engine of value

As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put it in Microsoft's latest earnings, Microsoft has “moved from talking about AI to applying AI at scale. By infusing AI across every layer of our tech stack, we’re winning new customers and helping drive new benefits and productivity gains across every sector." Indeed, with Microsoft's total revenue hitting $62 billion, an 18% increase year-over-year, and Cloud revenue experiencing 24% YoY growth fueled by AI applications, Microsoft has ascended to become the world's most valuable public company at a valuation of $3.014 trillion.

If you’re thinking about building an AI copilot for your own application, we’d love to hear from you, or you can subscribe below to get updates on this AI copilot blog series.

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