Microsoft goes all-in with AI at partner conference

This week at the Microsoft Inspire global partner conference, the company announced a collection of artificial intelligence (AI)-based products that illustrate its commitment to the technology.

During his keynote, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) Satya Nadella talked about the growth of AI in the tech ecosystem.

Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO, on stage keynoting Microsoft Inspire 2023

“There is no question we are in the midst of a massive platform shift with the new generation of AI that’s going to transform pretty much every sector, or every category of computing,” he said. “Perhaps a good place to start is to ground ourselves in what is that shift? What are the characteristics of the shift that we all, as an ecosystem, need to both understand and deeply innovate on top of?”

There are, he said, two dimensions, the first being the evolution of the human-computer interface from keyboard and mouse, which were revolutionary when they were developed, towards something more intuitive.

“We now have arrived, I would say, at that next logical, but big leap, which is natural language. To be able to have natural language as the interface we have with computers has been the pursuit, and we get to exercise that across every application we build and every interface we build.”

The second piece, he said, is around information management. “The entire history of computing has been about digitizing people, places, and things, and making sense of them. That is really essentially what we have done – information management is the only category that actually exists, which is you really digitize the world and try to reason and understand the world.

“In that context, we now have a new superpower, we have a reasoning engine that allows us to start with a draft for any task we want to complete. We have a reasoning engine that gives us predictive capability, we have a reasoning engine that will give us more insights. That is the two shifts. When we talk about AI, you can distill it into a more natural interface using natural language, a reasoning engine that works on top of all your data, giving you more power. Those are the two things that we should keep in mind and ground ourselves.”

During his keynote, Nadella highlighted some of the more than 40 announcements to be made at the event.

“I think is going to be very, very transformative going forward in how we think about the AI age,” he said. “How we think about the foundation models themselves, these reasoning engines that then reason over that data, the orchestration layer, which is going to be one of the most important middle tier pieces. And then at the application level, not only do we have what it takes to create the user interface. It’s not about autopilot, remember, it’s about putting humans in the loop. And designing it in such a way that the human is always in control, with a copilot that’s powerful, and helping them with every task.”

Bing Chat Enterprise, now in preview, wraps enterprise-grade data protection around Bing Chat. It will be included at no extra charge in Microsoft 365 E3, E5, Business Standard, and Business Premium subscriptions, and in the future Microsoft plans to also offer it as a standalone product at US$5 per user per month.

Bing Chat Enterprise, like its consumer sibling, draws on the internet, but also securely and privately references corporate data. It can, for example, compare confidential internal specifications for, say, a proposed construction project with information from public sources about existing buildings, and use that information to perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on the proposal.

Microsoft said that these chats are not saved, nor is any of the internal corporate data exposed outside the customer’s company. And, it promised, client data is not used to train the models.

The company also announced that both flavours of Bing Chat now accept image inputs (or links to images on image sharing sites such as Flickr or Imgur) as queries, as well as text.

Next, Nadella revealed that Microsoft 365 Copilot, announced in March, now has a price attached: US$30 per user per month, on top of the Microsoft 365 E3, E5, Business Standard, or Business Premium license (there’s no word on when or if Copilot will be offered to users of non-business editions of the software). Microsoft noted in its blog post about the announcement, “it has all the capabilities of Bing Chat Enterprise, plus so much more. Copilot puts thousands of skills at your command and can reason over all your content and context to take on any task. It’s grounded in your business data in Microsoft Graph—that’s all your emails, calendar, chats, documents, and more.”

However, the product is only in limited preview today; a date for general availability has not been revealed.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365 will also benefit from a Copilot of its own with the announcement of enhancements to Microsoft Sales Copilot, including features such as AI-generated opportunity summary, contextualized email drafts and meeting preparations.

Nadella concluded his keynote with Microsoft’s enterprise AI guarantee.

“We want to be very, very clear that our customers’ data is their own data, that none of that data is being used, or will be used to train any frontier model or any AI model. And that all of their data, and all of their AI models will be protected using the best enterprise security infrastructure,” he said. “These are very important things for us to stress and most importantly, to ensure that every customer feels assured that in this age of AI, they are well protected.”

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree

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