The knowledge graph and machine learning tools that Microsoft uses to provide smarts to digital assistant Cortana are now also bringing new intelligence to Word, Outlook and other tools in Office 365.
Researcher, one of the Office updates announced today, is designed to help students writing research papers more easily incorporate relevant quotes and materials from reliable sources into their work. The cloud-based service lets users search for references directly from within their Word documents and can even automatically add citations to a list of references.
Another update, Editor, is aimed at improving writing for a variety of users by providing style suggestions for avoiding unnecessary wordiness and repetition. Built using Microsoft's machine learning and natural language processing capabilities, Editor will "get better with time," according to Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Office team.
'Safe, Structured, Credible Information'
By drawing on Microsoft's Bing Knowledge Graph, Researcher is designed to help those writing academic papers to "pull in the appropriate content from the Web and provide structured, safe and credible information," Koenigsbauer wrote today in a post on the Office blog. Over time, he added, Microsoft will expand the scope of sources used in Researcher to include national science and health centers, history databases and well-known encyclopedias.
Available starting today for Windows desktop users with Word 2016 and a subscription to Office 365, Researcher will also roll out for mobile devices "soon," Koenigsbauer said.
According to Microsoft, the Bing Knowledge Graph incorporates information from more than one billion sources to help power everything from online Bing searches, Xbox, Office and the Cortana digital assistant. Last fall, Microsoft introduced a new application programming interface to allow developers to develop apps that can tap into those knowledge graph resources.
New 'Digital Writing Assistant'
Microsoft calls its new Editor service a "digital writing assistant" for people creating content in Word. At first, it will do things like suggest shorter, punchier alternatives to wordy phrases -- for example, replacing "the majority of" with "most of" -- and flag potential grammar and clarity problems. But machine learning will help Editor get "smarter" as time goes by, Koenigsbauer said.
Another Editor update planned for this fall he added, will "expand upon Word's current spelling and grammar tools to inform you why words or phrases may not be accurate -- teaching at the same time it is correcting." That coming release will also introduce "visual proofing cues" to help people distinguish between issues involving spelling (identified by a red squiggle), grammar (blue double underline) or style (gold dotted line).
News organizations such as the Associated Press already use a variety of such automated tools to access data more quickly and even generate machine-written investment and sports stories.
Microsoft today is also updating its Outlook email service by rolling out a Focused Inbox feature for Windows, Mac and the Web. Focused Inbox, first introduced in the mobile Outlook app for iOS and Android devices, uses machine learning to automatically separate emails into two tabs: "Focused" for important messages and "Other" for everything else. Another Outlook feature, @mentions for automatically highlighting and flagging specific individuals within email messages, will also now be available for Office 365 subscribers on Windows and Mac as well as on the Web. A mobile update will be coming soon, Koenigsbauer added.
One more new feature announced today is Zoom, designed to help PowerPoint users create more interactive presentations that can be easily adapted for different audiences.