Welcome to the 'Age of Copilots'
- By John K. Waters
Artificial Intelligence took center stage at Microsoft's annual Ignite developer conference, underway this week in Seattle Convention Center. More than half of the four-day event's 600 sessions feature AI, and the company made a slew of AI-related product announcements highlighting its "AI-forward strategy."
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella kicked off the event with a conference keynote.
"We’re entering this exciting new phase of AI," he told attendees, "where we’re not just talking about it as technology that’s new and interesting, but we’re getting into the details of product making, deployment, safety, and productivity gains--all the real-world issues, the most exciting thing for us as builders. We’re at a tipping point. This is clearly the age of Copilots."
"The way to think about this is, Copilot will be the new UI that helps us gain access to the world's knowledge and your organization's knowledge," he added, "but most importantly, it's your agent that helps you act on that knowledge."
Refining the "Copilot Vision"
With a series of product announcements and rebranding, Microsoft is extending the reach of its Copilot generative AI (genAI) assistant technologies across its solutions to "transform productivity and business processes for every role and function, from office workers and front-line workers to developers and IT professionals," the company said.
The list of newly branded and/or modified Copilot tools and solutions is a long one. It includes:
Copilot for Microsoft 365
Billed as "your assistant at work," Copilot for Microsoft 365 extends the capabilities of Redmond's AI-powered assistant to enhance the capabilities of its ubiquitous Office suite, including PowerPoint, Excel, Word, Outlook, Teams, and Viva. Copilot for Microsoft 365 became generally available for enterprises earlier this month, and Microsoft is pointing to a range of users, including Visa, BP, Honda, and Pfizer, as well as partners like Accenture, EY, KPMG, Kyndryl, and PwC.
This is a low-code tool for customizing Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365 by integrating business-critical data and for building custom "copilots" for internal or external use. Copilot Studio works with connectors, plugins, and GPTs, which allows IT teams to direct Copilot to the best data sources for specific queries.
Copilot for Service
Copilot for Service includes Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365 and helps extend existing contact centers with generative AI. In customer interactions, agents can ask Copilot for Service questions in natural language and receive relevant insights based on data sources from knowledge repositories, leading to faster and smarter resolutions, the company said.
Copilot for Azure
Available now in limited preview for IT teams, Copilot for Azure is an AI companion for IT designed to simplify day-to-day IT administration. The company bills it as "a unified chat experience that understands the user’s role and goals and enhances the ability to design, operate, and troubleshoot apps and infrastructure." Copilot for Azure was created to help IT teams gain new insights into their workloads, unlock untapped Azure functionality, and orchestrate tasks across both cloud and edge.
Copilot in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Guides
Combining the power of generative AI and "mixed reality," this copilot was developed to help frontline workers complete complex tasks and resolve issues faster without disrupting workflow. Available first on HoloLens 2, the hands-free copilot allows service industry professionals to use natural language and human gestures to offer interactive guidance through content and holograms overlaid on the equipment.
"Bing Chat" and "Bing Chat Enterprise" Are Now Copilot
In an effort to simplify the user experience and make Copilot more accessible, Microsoft announced the rebranding of its Bing Chat and Bing Chat Enterprise as simply Copilot. As the company explained in a blog post, "Copilot comes with commercial data protection enforced when any eligible user is signed in with Microsoft Entra ID (formerly Azure Active Directory).... Over time, our vision is to expand Copilot to any Entra ID user at no additional cost, so wherever and whenever an employee signs into Copilot with their work account they will get commercial data protection."
The company also unveiled two new Microsoft-designed chips: "Microsoft Azure Maia," an AI-accelerator chip designed to run cloud-based training and inferencing for AI workloads, such as OpenAI models, Bing, GitHub Copilot, and ChatGPT; and "Microsoft Azure Cobalt," a cloud-native chip based on Arm architecture optimized for performance, power efficiency, and cost-effectiveness for general purpose workloads.
Microsoft also announced the general availability of Azure Boost, a system that makes storage and networking faster by moving those processes off the host servers onto purpose-built hardware and software. The company also plans to add AMD MI300X accelerated virtual machines (VMs) to Azure that are designed to speed up AI workload processing. It's also offering a preview of the NC H100 v5 VM series built for NVIDIA H100 Tensor Core GPUs, which are meant to improve mid-range AI training and generative AI inferencing.
John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of Converge360.com sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.