Disclosure: Most of the vendors mentioned are clients of the author.
Nvidia’s big fall show, GTC (GPU Technology Conference), offered a lot of artificial intelligence news this week, ranging from autonomous robots to AIs that write the software they use. This matters to me because I’m a heavy Microsoft 365 user — I currently rely on Grammarly for automated editing — and Nvidia announced that Microsoft would be using Nvidia’s AI in Microsoft 365, initially for grammar correction, Q&A helper bots, and text prediction.
This move is only the start, so let’s look at how this AI capability could boost your productivity and evolve over the next few years.
Making Microsoft 365 smart: Step 1
One of the biggest frustrations for me is that even with products like IBM Watson in the market, we still don’t have smart digital assistants. Most translate queries into text, post them in a search engine, and then translate the text of the result back to speech. You can still generally get better and more consistent results just typing your query into the address bar of a browser. The current generation of AI can do amazing things, yet we still don’t have access to all it has to offer.
That’s starting to change: one of our first chances to use cutting-edge AI will be when this technology gets embedded into Microsoft 365. As noted, the initial capability will be focused on three things. Let’s look at each one.
I’m expecting this capability to be like Grammarly, which is already an AI engine that works with Word and your browser. But I expect Microsoft to advance beyond Grammarly and allow you to batch accept changes — much as you can do with editing tools today, significantly speeding up the editing process. I also expect it to learn your preferences over time because Nvidia showcased its AI engine’s ability to teach itself based on a user’s or groups’ behavior. This AI implementation should not only improve editing accuracy but speed as well.
One of the ongoing issues with any product is helping the user find and use its various features. In Microsoft 365, most people still don’t use or even know about many of the features that can increase productivity. Microsoft experimented with avatars in the past (remember Clippy? He almost came back in 2017). While the concept was good, we didn’t even have the beginnings of a true AI when this feature was released, and people hated the tool because their expectations ran well ahead of reality. While I doubt Microsoft will bring Clippy back, it certainly could use Cortana to provide automated answers to questions — and anticipate what a user should have asked to make a project go faster and better.
Now, we already have Text prediction in smartphones, so why not on our PCs? More importantly, with an AI, you should be better able to tell the next Word in a sentence based on context and history. I expect Microsoft to advance the capability to make more accurate predictions, make them earlier, and perhaps help complete sentences automatically when AI can understand where you’re going.
Future AI features: Step 2
One of the areas well past due for attention is true speech-to-text with punctuation. The Grammar Correction function could be used on top of speech-to-text to allow real-time automated dictation with punctuation. (Today, you typically have to manually apply punctuation after the speech-to-text conversion). This could be incredibly powerful for those who have lost the use of their arms or whose typing speed is well below their speaking speed. But there should also be a capability to look holistically at the entire piece (not just sentence by sentence) and have AI suggest structural changes based on what it determines is the logical outcome or point. This capability could be executed verbally with a conversation between the AI and the user on suggestions that are automatically implemented — once both sides agree to the change.
Given that much of the initial work with AIs involved image detection and identification, it’s important to note that word documents can be significantly enhanced with images. An AI that understands text and meaning with access to a library of images could automatically suggest and include images to enhance your Word document or PowerPoint presentation.
Much as Microsoft has begun to do with PowerPoint, which has also had an AI uplift that significantly speeds up presentation creation, this AI implementation should significantly speed up writing as you and your computer work like a cohesive team rather.
Finally, I also expect an intelligent filter that will flag sentences and words as potentially objectionable (racist, misogynistic, etc.). And given that Microsoft is also advancing its Chromium Edge browser, it wouldn’t surprise me to see many such features show up there. In short, Microsoft may be the first to have a browser that keeps you from posting things that could cost you your job.
To sum up: at GTC I saw many things that will eventually be enhanced by AI. But what got me the most excited was the near-term addition of a more robust AI to Microsoft 365. I expect others (like Google) to make similar moves, so these advanced AI features will begin showing up in almost every smart device on the planet. I can hardly wait until my digital assistant finally gains capabilities it should have had out of the box (the ability to truly understand what I’m saying and intelligently respond to me. It is these advances in Microsoft 365 I’m most anticipating.
At GTC, I saw a bit of the future, and it should make writing things like this column faster, easier, and far more automated. [Editor—We’ll see about that, lol.] We are just at the beginning of the AI Industrial Revolution; it is going to change everything.