The Era of the Copilot
Photo Credit Microsoft
Unless you have been under a rock over the last year you are probably aware of the infusion of AI into (seemingly) every piece of computer software. Ever since ChatGPT became available to everyone at the beginning of the year there has been a proliferation of ways AI can help you do everything from editing photos, removing background noise, and even writing prose in the style of Keats. If 1995 was the Internet wave 2023 is the AI wave. Microsoft has been releasing various copilots over the last year in preview and more recently in production on November 1st with the Microsoft 365 Copilot. These various Copilots range in cost from free to very expensive with some designed as very specific use cases such as Microsoft Security Copilot.
The biggest Copilot users will notice is the Copilot in Windows which shows as a bright and colorful icon on the taskbar. When launching this a sidebar pops out from the right and resizes the rest of your desktop. If you have used Bing lately or Bing Chat this will be very familiar to you. This is a free Copilot that allows you to interact with searching the web as well as screenshots, documents, web pages, and Windows settings. This Copilot has been tested in the Windows Insider Program over the last several months and is making its way into Windows 11 as a preview. Some of you might already have seen the icon on your taskbar and wondered what it is.
Much like the early versions of digital assistants (Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, Bixby) there are the classic parlor tricks that people love to do. “Write me a knock-knock joke”, “Draft an out-of-office written by Mickey Mouse”, etc. These are cute and fun demos but they don’t show as much real-world applicability. For that, we need to test it against real-use scenarios.
I have been using it both professionally and at home and while it’s still very early on there are some things it does well. Other times it has been an exercise in frustration, or just been flat-out wrong. There’s a whole separate very technical discussion on how the underlying Large Language Models (LLMs) are trained and how that affects the results a person sees. In my opinion, you still must know about the topic at hand so that you can filter out and catch the errors it makes. I have asked it for fun to come up with Cisco Network configs and PowerShell scripts. With the former, it is nothing I would use in production, for the latter I have seen some PowerShell where the script is correctly written but won’t accomplish what you want. In other words, don’t take results as a single source of truth just because it’s easy.
There are many cases where the Copilot can point you in the right direction or save you time. For example, I asked Copilot to summarize my blog post about the Windows Insider Channels. It provided a nice quick summary and additional context if prompted. I recently was trying to decide between a Pixel Watch 2 and a Galaxy Watch and Bing helped me compare the two and gave me additional sources to visit for more information. With the Copilot being a part of Windows, you can also have it interact with Windows itself. If you aren’t sure how to turn a setting on it can show you where AND do it for you. I suspect over time those capabilities will grow too.
Businesses have access to the same Copilot as consumers but with a base M365 license, they also get Bing Chat Enterprise which ensures that chat data is not saved or used to train the underlying models. This is completely separate from the newly released Microsoft 365 Copilot. The M365 Copilot is currently only available to large enterprises (300-seat minimum) and costs $30 a month per user in addition to any other licenses. From meetings I have had I am told part of this is the cost of the queries as well as the spin-up costs to get the model going on your organization’s own data. M365 Copilot looks incredible and sits alongside any of the major Office products allowing you to interact with documents, spreadsheets, reports, presentations, Teams chats, and emails. For many businesses they will be able to gain productivity of $1 per day per user. I imagine the pricing will come down over time as the costs for searches become cheaper. I could also see a scenario where you can buy M365 Copilot for just a handful of users who would benefit from it. An employee who hardly uses Office won’t get as much out of it as an employee who lives in an Office program all day.
The age of the Copilot is here, it is not The Pilot and definitely requires you as the user to overcome any shortcomings it may have. However, for those mundane tasks, it sure would be nice to let the copilot keep me at cruising altitude so I can finish that Wordle….