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Microsoft Office’s next big trick could be using AI to write your docs for you

This post may or may not have been written by ChatGPT

Artificial intelligence projects have been pulling off some incredibly impressive feats lately, and in recent weeks, a couple of these efforts have really been blowing up and catching the public’s eye: OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which delivers text–based output, and Midjourney, which creates visual art pieces. Microsoft has been supporting the former effort for a few years now, and a new report suggests Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Microsoft Office) could possibly enlist OpenAI’s help to take the wheel for you when it comes to replying to emails, drafting documents, and more.

OpenAI is a seven-year-old nonprofit founded by Y Combinator’s former president Sam Altman and other advocates of ethical AI research. ChatGPT relies on a large-language model called GPT 3.5 to transform prompts into comprehensible text on almost any subject under the sun. Based on details obtained from multiple people privy to Microsoft’s plans, The Information reports on the company’s growing interest in incorporating ChatGPT tech across product lines.

Not only could this kind of AI engine make Bing Search powerful enough to answer queries in full sentences (instead of just giving you pages of links to click through), but we might also see its language “skills” put to use all across Microsoft 365. For something like Outlook, in addition to helping deliver more useful searches of your inbox, AI could automatically offer email reply suggestions — maybe even better than Google Smart Reply. AI-enhanced Word has the possibility to be even more powerful, someday proofreading your documents, or scanning them to help eliminate jargon-y word choice.

Other implementations down the road may rely on personalizing the AI models based on individual user data, though Microsoft would want to first ensure total privacy in such scenarios. That kind of training could make the AI capable of summarizing meeting transcripts, generating imagery for presentations, and providing particularly personalized feedback to improve document and message drafts.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and while these additions may improve Microsoft 365, the Satya Nadella-led company hasn’t always been so willing to hop on the AI bandwagon. An AI researcher told The Information the company was “afraid people might not react well” to using AI. Perhaps GPT’s initial success automating code generation for software developers and ChatGPT’s astounding success swayed Nadella’s company in its favor.

Microsoft Word already uses its own AI-based tools for features like Smart Find, allowing you to search your document using a search engine-like query, and At a Glance (not the Google feature), which auto-generates bulleted summary lists for larger documents. And GPT’s already involved, too, where it presently helps with Word’s predictive auto-complete feature.

Microsoft and OpenAI’s efforts will have hurdles to clear, and technical concerns like the accuracy of information, originality of content, preventing misuse, and the risk of generating offensive output remain. Meanwhile, rivals like Google are feeling the heat, and are working on their own next-gen AI solutions.

Until Microsoft has anything to share publicly about OpenAI’s contribution to the Office suite and other products, you can hone your prompt-engineering skills (get ready for that to be a whole thing) on the publicly available version of ChatGPT.

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