What is Microsoft Copilot?
Microsoft Copilot is an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tool that is primarily meant to support Microsoft 365 users with automation features for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Teams. It also works with the Bing search engine and Windows operating system (OS). A descendent of previous client-side efforts, including Clippy and Cortana -- which it replaces -- Copilot offers suggestions, automates tasks and aims to make users more efficient and productive.
Copilot is designed to take advantage of new processing power being introduced by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in desktop and mobile PCs. Both chipmakers are introducing an AI coprocessor along with their newest generation of processors. The coprocessor is specially designed to process language models and perform inferencing on the client. Copilot will use these technologies for added processing power.
Copilot is still under development. It was launched as Bing Chat on Feb. 7, 2023, as an add-in for Bing and Microsoft's Edge browser. Copilot is built upon OpenAI's GPT-4 foundational large language model.
As of this writing, Copilot mostly uses graphics processing units for training and central processing units and GPUs for inference. The newest generation of CPUs from Intel and AMD contain neural processing units (NPUs), which are specifically designed as AI accelerators. Copilot is believed to use the NPU to offload work from the CPU and to perform inference on PCs that lack powerful enough GPUs.
What are the versions of Microsoft Copilot?
Initially, Copilot was only available on Windows 11. It has since been made available on the latest version of Windows 10. In late 2024, Microsoft is expected to issue a significant update to Windows. There is some dispute as to whether it will be called Windows 12 or remain Windows 11. In either event, Copilot for this new release will be more fully integrated and have additional features, such as self-customization, automatic repair and enhanced security features that eclipse earlier versions of Windows.
Besides Bing and Edge, Copilot is only available for the Microsoft 365 suite. It does not support the locally installed version of the productivity software -- Office 2021/2019/2016 and earlier.
Copilot is available for Mac users using the Mac version of Microsoft 365. It also offers a limited version for Apple iOS and Android users.
Microsoft Copilot for Windows is -- as of January 2024 -- available in preview for select Windows 10 users and is being rolled out gradually through the latest Windows 11 update. When Copilot is available on the user's computer, they see the Copilot icon in the taskbar.
Copilot operates similar to Cortana by integrating with the OS to automate tasks, search for files and respond to user voice commands.
How to use Microsoft Copilot
Users ask Copilot questions in a conversational, natural language style as they would with ChatGPT. As with any internet search, context is vital. Users should provide their question with as many keywords as possible. Copilot is not autopilot. It is an assistant that requires human intervention and effort.
In Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, users can generate text and then have Copilot complete or rewrite it. Copilot can summarize a document and provide a concise overview of the contents. It can also turn text into data tables.
In Microsoft Teams, Copilot can provide summaries and recaps of meetings, going over key points and action items. During the meeting, it can provide response suggestions and other talking points, as well as translations from foreign languages.
How to access Microsoft Copilot
For Windows 11, the Copilot icon is located where the Cortana button previously resided in the lower-left corner of the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Click on the button to access various features, such as voice commands, information searches and file navigation.
Bing and Microsoft 365 have a Copilot button to open a prompt interface. For Bing, there is a prompt below the search box that says, "Ask Copilot." In the Microsoft 365 apps, there is a Copilot button in the toolbar for all the applications in the suite.
In Outlook, users can access Copilot through the Add-ins menu or the Help section. In Microsoft Teams, click the Copilot icon, either in the main menu or during one-on-one or group chats.
Benefits of using Microsoft Copilot
Because Copilot is designed to function as an assistant, the primary benefit of using Copilot is improved work-related productivity.
It can boost productivity through the automation of repetitive tasks, such as writing repetitive emails and summarizing documents, freeing users up for more important work. In addition to productivity gains, Copilot can boost user creativity by suggesting new ideas, formats and content based on context and preferences. It improves communication by ensuring emails are sent and streamlines the workflow of Microsoft 365 applications.
Beyond productivity, Copilot can enhance the decision-making process through data analytics, financial analysis, market research and project planning. It can suggest the next step in a process based on context and past experience, reducing workload and fatigue.
Copilot enables personalization by learning and adapting to the user's writing style and preferences over time, providing increasingly relevant and personalized suggestions. It can also tailor content to specific audiences or purposes.
Differences between Cortana and Copilot
Cortana was a simpler application that performed more rudimentary functions and served as a personal assistant. It focused on managing tasks, setting reminders and providing information through voice interaction. It was a standalone application that did not work with other Microsoft products or tools.
Copilot is a more advanced productivity assistant integrated within Microsoft 365 applications and Bing to help with content creation, editing and workflow automation.
Copilot's conversation styles
Microsoft Copilot offers three conversation styles to cater to different needs: Creative, Balanced and Precise. They break down as follows:
- Balanced. This is the default setting, meant to strike a balance between the other two styles. It offers neutral, factual responses that are informative and concise with a little bit of extra information.
- Creative. True to its title, this style is designed for imaginative efforts, such as brainstorming and exploring ideas. It provides lengthy answers with additional details and facts. It is the most conversational of the three styles.
- Precise. This style emphasizes short and concise answers, perfect for situations where users need bite-sized information or instructions. If Creative provides the most elaborate answers, Precise offers the least amount of information to answer a question.
The future of Copilot
Microsoft has provided a roadmap for planned new features of Copilot.
The first significant upgrade will be support for GPT-4 Turbo. GPT-4 Turbo is designed to handle larger and more complex tasks with a knowledge cutoff date of April 2023. Previous versions of GPT were cut off in 2021, so the newer model has an additional two years of information to draw on.
Copilot will also support the latest DALL-E 3 model. DALL-E is from OpenAI -- the maker of ChatGPT. It is specifically designed to generate high-quality images from text input. The latest version will provide even higher quality and more accurate images.
Microsoft Edge will eventually be able to rewrite the text of a website through Copilot. GPT-4 will add vision capabilities to Bing image search to deliver better image understanding. Bing will have a new feature called Deep Search to deliver GPT-4-optimized results.
Using Copilot, programmers will be able to perform more accurate calculations, complex and comprehensive coding, data analysis, visualization and math.
As time goes on, Copilot will become more context-specific for a variety of functions and tasks. Examples include the following:
- Teaching. Teachers can design and improve activity plans for elementary school students to experience and learn about different plants.
- Shopping. Consumers can ask Copilot to explain how to choose a mattress based on firmness and sleeping preferences.
- Travel. Travelers can use Copilot to plan a four-day itinerary for a visit to Paris and Amsterdam. They might ask what the must-see attractions, activities and restaurants are in each city.
- History. Users can ask Copilot if depictions of pirates in movies and novels are accurate.
- Education. A user can prompt Copilot to teach them new skills. For example, they can ask the assistant to identify and describe plants that attract bees and ask how to grow them in a garden. The user can also ask how to pollinate a garden by hand.
- Jobs. Copilot can help users with job-related information. For example, a user can prompt the assistant to explain steps to get into the semiconductor industry. They can then prompt Copilot to list some related fields of study, as well as skills, qualifications and experiences necessary for entry into the field.