Microsoft Build 2024: Copilot, Copilot, Copilot

Microsoft shows how its Copilot AI assistant is evolving at its Build developer conference.
"The AI Economy," a newsletter exploring AI's impact on business, work, society and tech.
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Satya Nadella had his “developers” moment.

Microsoft held its annual Build developer conference in downtown Seattle, Washington this week. On the heels of events by OpenAI and Google, what would the Windows maker bring to the table?

Quite a bit, as it turns out. Microsoft’s chief executive came out in full force to hype up the next evolution of the company’s Copilot AI assistant. It was in practically every product announcement. Copilot was uttered so many times that it reminded me of the address Nadella’s predecessor once gave—you know the one I’m talking about.

For this week’s issue of “The AI Economy,” take a look at the future of Microsoft’s Copilot and how the company’s approach to AI is different from Google’s. And with all eyes now turned towards Cupertino, California, what will Apple unveil next month to remain competitive in the AI race?

In addition, read about a new company pushing AI builders to incorporate Calm Tech principles into their apps and services.

The Prompt

Google I/O and Microsoft Build are two of the biggest developer conferences. This year, the themes for both were, unsurprisingly, artificial intelligence. However, the messages conveyed contrasted with each other. Google wanted to promote that its Gemini model was everywhere and in everything. On the other hand, while Microsoft did infuse its AI assistant into more of its products, it introduced a vision where its category-defining Copilot would be seen as a powerful virtual assistant.

The success of Copilot hasn’t gone unnoticed by Microsoft and the AI community. In fact, other companies have co-opted the copilot name for their use, putting it on the same footing as Xerox. “Copilot isn’t just a brand that we own. Copilot is now becoming a phrase that people use to refer to AI assistants, personal AIs, productivity AIs, work AIs, and many companies…and startups are starting to use it,” Mustafa Suleyman, Microsoft’s AI head, said in an interview.

Microsoft and Google are approaching the AI issue with different perspectives. While Google is developing its models and then pitching them to developers, Microsoft is beefing up its application that sits one layer above and finding ways to commercialize it. It is opting to rely on others to generate the models that it uses, namely OpenAI. Doing so enables Microsoft to focus more on productizing Copilot for many use cases and gives organizations a better idea of how to use the technology instead of simply having a model to start with.

Is Microsoft playing chess while Google is playing checkers?

Nadella believes that there’s a fundamental shift taking place. Every layer in the tech stack is changing because of AI and the world being flooded with more information about people, places and things than ever before. Microsoft is putting Copilot at the center of it all, making this everyday AI companion your trusted source—that digital twin you turn to for help and guidance—to navigate you through the data and keep you focused on being creative instead of being bogged down by the minutia.

Copilot has become what Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana should have been. It’s maybe the closest thing we could have to a productized app version of the Star Trek computer right now. It’s not a single app but a platform that Microsoft is offering, providing APIs and extensions that let developers and third-party services connect to it to make their offerings more intelligent.

But it’s also shaping the next-generation computing devices. Microsoft’s AI is a critical component of its new Copilot+ PC reality. It’s ushering in the age of AI PCs, in which the technology is embedded on local devices for what might be the first time compared to its more common entry point: the cloud. The impact could be profound for those in the enterprise, especially for knowledge workers.

Microsoft put on a good conference this year, showing that it hasn’t become complacent about AI innovations. The company has set its Copilot so high up on a pedestal that it holds equal, if not greater, prominence as Windows, Azure and Xbox. However, that puts more pressure on Microsoft to evolve its AI, including demonstrating the potential of Copilot+ PC and other edge computing use cases.

But it can’t move slowly, either, because it faces competition from Amazon, Meta, Google and Apple. With WWDC nearly right around the corner, industry watchers will wonder what Apple will do with OpenAI to reintroduce Siri for the AI era and how generative AI will be infused into iOS and MacOS applications.

Read more about Microsoft Build on VentureBeat:

Training AI to Respect Our Humanity

Following my story on responsible AI earlier this month, I came across an announcement that entrepreneur, user experience designer and so-called cyborg anthropologist Amber Case has launched the Calm Tech Institute. It’s a research firm created to advise product builders and innovators on how to develop AI-powered apps and services that better respect our time, attention and humanity.

Image credit: Calm Tech Institute
Image credit: Calm Tech Institute

Sounds like it would fall in the category of building responsible AI, right? But what exactly is Calm Tech?

It’s a process of designing technology that works with human attention—not against it. This movement has eight principles behind it, including that tech should only require the smallest possible amount of attention; it should inform and create calm; tech should make use of the periphery; amplify the best of tech and humanity; communicate without needing to speak; work, even when it fails; and only require minimal usage in order to solve a problem.

CTI says it will work with clients to implement AI and automation in a way that minimizes negative outcomes while boosting the good parts of human and machine collaboration. In addition, the organization will conduct studies exploring ways to further promote Calm Tech principles and plans to introduce a certification process.

While tech companies evangelize AI and automation as helping eliminate the need to address mundane and inconvenient tasks, there’s also the risk that we could become so obsessed with the technology in a way similar to social media. To counter this and restore the human focus, CTI wants to ensure a better user experience is considered and embraced.

Joining Case are Fractal co-founder Hernán Ortiz, Mui Lab’s Chief Experience Officer Dr. Munehiko Sato, New York University – Abu Dhabi’s Director for the Center of Cyber Security Hoda Al Khzaimi, author Dr. Douglas Rushkoff, BlockScience founder Dr. Michael Zargham, marketing executive Vanessa Camones, and brand strategist Christina Rosalie.

Today’s Visual Snapshot

Key reasons for enterprise generative AI adoption in 2023 versus 2024. Image credit: Altman Solon
Key reasons for enterprise generative AI adoption in 2023 versus 2024. Image credit: Altman Solon

A study by global strategy consulting firm Altman Solon delves into generative AI adoption in the workplace. More than 400 senior-level executives were polled. The research concludes that there has been rapid growth in enterprise-grade AI tooling over the past year, and that uptick will continue.

The top reasons organizations are adopting gen AI remained the same between 2023 and 2024. Respondents say the technology will accelerate task completion, save on costs, and generate better results through workflow optimization. However, the percentage of those surveyed who said AI improves decision-making didn’t change year over year.

Quote This

In many ways, if you go all the way back to even birth of at least modern computing, 70 years ago, the pursuit has always been about how to build computers that understand us instead of us having to understand computers. I feel like we really are close to that real breakthrough.

— Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella in his keynote address ahead of the company’s introduction of its Copilot+ PC.

This Week’s AI News

🏭 Industry Insights

🤖 General AI and Machine Learning

✏️ Generative AI

🛒 Commerce

☁️ Enterprise

⚙️ Hardware and Robotics

🔬 Science and Breakthroughs

💼 Business and Marketing

📺 Media and Entertainment

💰 Funding

⚖️ Copyright and Regulatory Issues

💥 Disruption and Misinformation

🔎 Opinions and Research

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