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Microsoft Corp on Thursday trumpeted its latest plans to put artificial intelligence into the hands of more users, answering a spate of unveilings this week by its rival Google with upgrades to its own widely used office software.

The company previewed a new AI “copilot” for Microsoft 365, its product suite that includes Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and Outlook emails. Microsoft said AI can offer a first draft in these applications, speeding up content creation and freeing up workers’ time.

The company, outpacing peers through investments in ChatGPT’s creator OpenAI, also showcased a new “business chat” experience that can pull data and perform tasks across Microsoft’s applications simply on a user’s written command.

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“We believe this next generation of AI will unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in a livestreamed presentation.

This week’s drumbeat of news including new funding for AI startup Adept reflects how companies large and small are locked in a fierce competition to deploy software that could reshape how people work. At the center are Microsoft and Google-owner Alphabet Inc, which on Tuesday touted AI features for Gmail and a “magic wand” to draft prose in its own word processor.

The frenzy to invest in and build new products began with the launch last year of ChatGPT, the chatbot sensation that showed the public the potential of so-called large language models.

Google lets testers access ChatGPT-style generative AI

Such technology learns from past data how to create content anew, powering in part Microsoft’s new copilot and evolving rapidly. Just this week, OpenAI began the release of a more powerful version known as GPT-4.

In one of Microsoft’s biggest updates, the company showed how AI can open up the computational wizardry of its Excel spreadsheet software - long the domain of trained analysts – to any person able to describe a calculation they would like in plain text.

Microsoft also showcased how its AI can summarize email threads and even virtual meetings as they occur live in its Teams collaboration software.


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