After two months of testing its new natural language-based AI tool Copilot with 20 large companies, Microsoft announced an expanded preview of the feature on Tuesday for 600 customers, widening access to a tool embedded in its Office application that was initially met with reviews as a game-changer.
The “early access” program will be invitation only and a paid preview that requires an additional fee, said Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for modern work, who would not share when the tech giant planned to roll out the program more widely to its full customer base, even though “the demand to me seems almost bottomless right now,” Spataro said in an interview with Forbes. “I don’t talk to a customer right now that isn’t interested in it.” The company said it is not disclosing pricing externally.
Spataro said early customers reported Copilot’s meeting tools—the ability to summarize what happened in a missed meeting and act as a real-time assistant while a meeting is going on—have been most frequently cited by early customers as particularly useful. In a blog post, he also identified early feedback Microsoft has gotten on the tool, such as the need for more conversational, multi-step interactions with Copilot.
Asked about concerns that generative AI tools might expose corporate secrets or customer information—with some employers even instituting bans of ChatGPT’s use following leaks of sensitive data—Spataro said Copilot does not use corporate users’ data to “train” the larger model.
“Everything that happens related to large language models and the use of AI happens within what we call a ‘tenant boundary’” in the Microsoft Cloud, Spataro says. “No data ever leaves your ‘tenant’ and no data is ever used to train the large language models. Even those statements give us a really good foundation with most customers.”
The company, which purchased an exclusive license to the underlying technology behind ChatGPT in 2020, also announced a new “semantic index” capability that will require Microsoft 365 users to have its E3 and E5 versions to access Copilot’s capabilities. Rather than finding files by title names or keywords, Microsoft says the feature maps data and uses a conceptual understanding of the data to retrieve it.
Microsoft also announced new features on Copilot such as integrating DALL-E, OpenAI’s image generator, into PowerPoint and adding AI-powered coaching tips in Outlook to improve email writing, an enhancement that could help workers struggling with the “digital debt” phenomenon Microsoft identified in its annual Work Trend Index, the results of which it also released Tuesday.
The report, which surveyed 31,000 people in 31 countries and analyzed data from Microsoft 365, found that 68% of respondents said they don’t have enough uninterrupted time during the workday to focus. It also found that nearly 60% of users’ time spent in Microsoft 365 is using communication tools like Outlook or Teams, with just over 40% being used for actually producing work with tools like Excel or Word. The heaviest email users, the analysis found, spend nearly nine hours a week on email, while the most prolific Teams users spend 7.5 hours a week in meetings.
Respondents cited ineffective meetings—not too many meetings—as their biggest obstacle to productivity in the survey. Microsoft, of course, hopes its customers will add on AI features that will help change that. “What many people are feeling now is it takes work to do work,” Spataro says.