Microsoft Adds Artificial Intelligence to Office 365 and Bing
In the year since launching its artificial intelligence (AI) and research group, Microsoft has been adding a variety of new behind-the-scenes artificial intelligence capabilities to tools such as Office 365 and its Bing search engine.
The company unveiled some of those latest capabilities yesterday during an event in San Francisco. They include a preview version of Insights, a new service that automatically identifies trends and patterns in Excel spreadsheets, along with new intelligent search features for Bing. and a coming Office 365 tool called Acronyms that provides organization-specific definitions of acronyms in documents.
Yesterday, Microsoft also announced a partnership with the news aggregation and social media site Reddit that will provide Bing searches with relevant results from Reddit conversations and communities. Those results will include content from Reddit's AMA, for "Ask Me Anything," conversations with well-known figures from a wide variety of industries and walks of life.
'Useful AI for Everyday Life'
All the AI-powered enhancements Microsoft has been rolling out recently are aimed at providing users with "richer, more useful information," the company said. Compared to the early search capabilities of the Web based on finding simple facts and figures, the latest smart software features can help people weigh the pros and cons of more complex questions and even help them better identify the right questions to ask when they're uncertain about which direction to go in, according to Microsoft.
Those new capabilities reflect how AI is being increasingly integrated into other technology tools used regularly for searches, office productivity, communication, and other tasks, according to Jordi Ribas, Microsoft's corporate vice president in charge of AI products.
"AI has really been integrated into society for many years," Ribas said in a company news post yesterday. "Sometimes, people have been using AI for a long time and they don't even realize it."
In a tweet yesterday, Microsoft's research division said the new capabilities highlighted in San Fransisco "show the progress we've made to deliver useful AI for everyday life."
New Tools Arriving on Office 365
Starting this month, for example, U.S.-based Office 365 commercial subscribers enrolled in the Insiders program will begin seeing a preview version of Insights in Excel.
The new service "automatically highlights patterns it detects, which makes it easier for everyone to explore and analyze their data," Office corporate vice president Kirk Koenigsbauer wrote in a blog post. "Powered by machine learning, Insights helps identify trends, outliers, and other useful visualizations, providing new and useful perspectives on data."
Other new intelligent capabilities coming to Office 365 include: the Acronyms tool for identifying workplace-specific terms, coming to Insiders in 2018; time to leave, which will send alerts to Outlook mobile app users to let them know the best times to start heading to appointments (rolling out to Outlook for iOS Insiders starting this month); a preview of Microsoft Whiteboard, which helps teams using Windows 10 share freeform images that can later be turned into tables, diagrams, or other presentation materials (available now); and text in image search, available worldwide by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, the new intelligent search features coming to Microsoft's Bing search engine will include -- when relevant -- content from Reddit's "unique set of data," Microsoft said. For example, it noted that "the community's system of voting up helpful answers may help people find information other people have found useful."