Beneath Microsoft's Surface event, AI spreads everywhere
Windows gets its own Copilot to help operate the operating system – Edge, Bing, Outlook, 365 not spared, either
Microsoft on Thursday further co-opted its GitHub subsidiary's Copilot brand and heralded the arrival of its own Microsoft Copilot as "your everyday AI companion."
Borrowing Sirius Cybernetics Corporation's robot tagline, "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun to Be With," perhaps would have been too much of an intellectual property risk even for a firm that has offered to indemnify paying customers using its litigation-bait code-generating chat.
Citing its history of building AI copilots – rendered in lower case as if this aviation metaphor has become the accepted vernacular for disclaimer-encumbered machine learning models – the Windows biz said Microsoft Copilot will arrive in Windows 11 on September 26 and in Bing, Edge, and Microsoft 365 later this year.
"Today we take the next step to unify these capabilities into a single experience we call Microsoft Copilot, your everyday AI companion," declared Yusuf Mehdi, corporate VP and consumer chief marketing officer, in an announcement coinciding with the launch of various Microsoft Surface hardware. More on that below.
"Copilot will," Mehdi continued, "uniquely incorporate the context and intelligence of the web, your work data and what you are doing in the moment on your PC to provide better assistance – with your privacy and security at the forefront."
But what Microsoft means by AI depends upon context. The Windows 11 Paint application, for example, has been bestowed with background removal capabilities – something that prior to recent image recognition advancements was something of a chore when done manually. The app also includes a preview of Cocreator, which adds text-to-image capabilities based on OpenAI's DALL-E model.
The Photos app likewise has been enhanced with AI-assisted Background Blur.
Copilot in Windows is a bit less specific. Microsoft says its helper code "empowers you to create faster, complete tasks with ease and lessens your cognitive load – making once complicated tasks simple."
In certain contexts, Copilot in Windows is essentially a shortcut system, or what once might have been called a macro in simpler times. Activated by a taskbar icon, the Copilot sidebar menu accepts text or speech input and interprets the prompt within the limits of its capabilities.
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One example shown in a teaser video is a Windows user with evidently no personal musical preferences typing, "Play something to help me focus." Copilot for Windows decides this command should be handled by streaming service Spotify and presents a menu to open a public playlist called "Focus Mix" on the service. The user still has to click to launch Spotify, which suggests that Microsoft may be wary about giving its Copilot full control over Windows.
Copilot in Windows is also shown transcribing a spoken command, "Organize my windows," and then arranging the desktop position of open windows as one might do manually with the Snap Assist tool. It can also perform miracles like activating dark mode on-demand. Thanks, AI.
The helper software will also make generative text moves, like summarizing, explaining, or rewriting documents. Copilot in Windows is shown being prompted to write a paragraph about minimalist architecture. And behold, it produces a perfectly serviceable, bland paragraph on the subject, one that would no doubt work on a web spam page hosting architecture-oriented ads, in a middle school homework assignment, or in marketing copy no one really reads anyway.
Bing and Edge have not been spared the AI upgrade. Bing – Microsoft's little used search engine – will now provide personalized answers based on your chat history. As an example, those who search for a soccer team on Bing and later plan a trip to a city associated with that team may be informed if that team is playing during the visitation period. Imagine Clippy saying, "I see you're planning a trip to Liverpool. Would you like to attend the Liverpool F.C. game when you're there?" That future is now.
Bing and Edge will also allow Copilot to interrogate shoppers, responding to user queries about an item with further questions in order "to provide more tailored recommendations."
Outlook for Windows is getting various updates, including AI-powered help when writing emails. You can also use Outlook for Windows to check your mail and calendars in one place; we were all warned earlier that the client was set to absorb the roles of the standalone Mail and Calendar apps, so this is to be expected.
Microsoft can't stop injecting Copilot AI into every corner of its app empireEARLIER
Bing Image Creator meanwhile has been rewired to communicate with DALL-E 3, the latest text-to-image model from partner OpenAI. And so has Microsoft Designer, Redmond's latest consumer app addition to its Microsoft 365 cloud suite.
Notably, Microsoft says it is adding Content Credentials - hidden digital watermarks that include data and time stamps - to all AI-generated images created in Bing, and eventually to images created in Paint and Microsoft Designer. Artwork created by artists of yore may still be plagued by unauthorized copying but at least images generated from models trained on that work can be tracked and traced.
For enterprise customers, Microsoft is "introducing a new, hero experience in Microsoft 365 Copilot: Microsoft 365 Chat." This is scheduled for November 1.
That may sound more exciting than it actually is. "Hero" is a marketing euphemism for a banner ad or image at the top of a web page or application. As far as we can tell, what was called Business Chat when previewed in March has become Microsoft 365 Chat and can be invoked with "hero" images consisting of useful, canned prompts. It relies on AI to triage emails, draft replies, and automate the production of business-oriented boilerplate.
To help Microsoft customers adjust to the new world of prompting AI to carry out tasks instead of issuing direct keyboard commands, there's Copilot Lab, a set of prompt templates for those who haven't quite figured out how to address mercurial models in a way that produces the desired results.
And it's perhaps worth becoming more adept at model lingo because Copilot is now everywhere in Microsoft 365: in Word, Excel, Loop, OneNote, Stream, and OneDrive.
And as we've previously noted, the large models at the heart of things like Microsoft's Copilot family can be confidently inaccurate, and not by any means actually artificially generally intelligent.
Finally, Microsoft introduced a new set of Surface hardware on which to run its AI-decorated software. There's the new Surface Laptop Studio 2 (14.4" PixelSense Flow Display, 13th Gen Intel Core i7-13700H Processor, $1,999+), the Surface Laptop Go 3 (12.4" PixelSense Display, 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U, $799+), Surface Go 4 for Business (Intel Processor N200, 10.5-inch PixelSense Display, $579+), and Surface Hub 3 (a giant screen on rollers).
"We believe that Microsoft is the place where powerful, useful AI experiences come together – simply, securely and responsibly – into the products you use most," said Mehdi. ®