Microsoft and Google unveil AI tools for businesses
For all the talk about the transformative nature of the new technology called generative artificial intelligence, some of the past business uses can be much more prosaic: formatting a PowerPoint slide, summarizing a call, or writing to-do lists.
Many of the first mainstream applications of generative AI broke into the realm of the mainstream internet, with open chats and more sophisticated versions of internet searching. But announcements this week from Microsoft and Google about adding AI into the daily tools of knowledge workers and software developers show how mundane — but highly profitable — software for businesses can be the most profitable. .
“Looking to the future, we believe this next generation of AI will unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” said Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, announcing a set of tools Thursday. He added that new features would “remove the drudgery from our daily tasks and jobs”.
The new tools are more sober than visions of how generative AI could evolve or disrupt Google’s search engine, used by billions of people, but they’re a crucial part of Google and Microsoft’s strategies to make money their investments in AI.
Microsoft has made a series of announcements outlining how it plans to push AI into every corner of its business. It has committed $13 billion to its partnership with startup OpenAI, whose chatbot ChatGPT captured the public imagination when it was released in late November. Just over a month ago, Microsoft also integrated OpenAI’s models into its Bing search engine.
Thursday’s announcement touches the heart of some of Microsoft’s biggest businesses, in products like its software suite that includes Word, Excel and Outlook. Office products and related cloud services generated $11.8 billion in revenue in Microsoft’s last quarter, while search and news advertising generated about $3.2 billion in sales.
Microsoft has focused on integrating AI assistants, which it calls co-drivers, into software. It relies on data that business customers already have stored in the company’s systems – chats in its Teams collaboration tool, documents stored in its cloud and emails on its servers.
With Business Chat, a new feature to work across all tools, someone can request a client update and it will analyze recent emails, meeting notes, and other information to generate a response.
The products are being tested by 20 business customers, and pricing and licensing details will be released in the coming weeks, Microsoft executive Jared Spataro said in an interview.
The wizards produce sample text, but Microsoft stressed that users should review and adjust the results. When generating text, the co-pilot may make mistakes or generate irrelevant information.
It can also suggest feelings or emotions. An executive showed how the co-pilot in Word could write a personal speech celebrating his daughter’s high school graduation. “In summary, to say we’re proud of Tasha would be an understatement,” the model offered.
As Mr. Spataro demonstrated how he could use the wizard to generate an email providing his feedback on a draft blog post, the AI tool generated an email stating that Mr. Spataro was ” impressed” and had made minor grammatical changes to the article. – even though he had no way of knowing if he was “impressed” or if the changes were just grammatical.
“He doesn’t know at all,” Mr Spataro said when asked about it. He said the email should be edited, adding: “I mean, that’s an example of why we called him a co-pilot.”
Last month, Microsoft pulled some of Bing’s new features after its chat produced inaccurate, bizarre, and sometimes frightening results. The new Bing had “millions of active users” in its first month, about a third of whom had never used Bing before, the company said. The company said it would experiment with how to integrate ads into the results.
Microsoft has jockeyed with Google, which said its chatbot, Bard, will be released in the “coming weeks” as an experimental demo. But Dan Taylor, Google’s vice president of global ads, said in an interview last month that the company has yet to find a way to make money from the chatbot.
In an announcement on Tuesday, Google outlined a similar route to generating profits from AI technology: by incorporating it into software that companies pay for and selling the underlying AI to others. organizations.
Google said it would integrate AI into its messaging and word processing tools, Gmail and Docs, so it could write emails, job descriptions and other types of documents from simple prompts. written. With a few clicks, Google said, users could then adjust the tone to be more playful or professional, and have the AI cut or expand the content. The features will first be available to what the company calls Trusted Users.
Thomas Kurian, chief executive of Google Cloud, which sells software and services to other companies, said in a blog post that generative AI was a generational shift in technology, similar to computing’s shift from desktop to mobile devices. Powered by a system known as the Big Language Model, the AI can generate text and other media when given short prompts.
Just as software developers flocked to develop apps for the iPhone, Google expects many programmers to want to build new AI apps and businesses. Kurian said the company will be offering two new products, PaLM API and MakerSuite, to help them in their efforts.
Google also launched Generative AI App Builder, a tool to help businesses and governments quickly develop their own chatbots. The company will also allow organizations to customize AI with their own data through an existing product, Vertex AI.
Building large language models is an expensive undertaking that requires rare and specialized engineers, as well as purpose-built supercomputers to handle the processing demands. Most companies won’t have the resources to replicate the years of work by Google, Microsoft, or OpenAI in building these systems, so companies are rushing to meet their demand.
Mr Kurian said he expected this generation of AI to have “a profound effect on every industry”.
Cade Metz contributed report.