I always felt skeptical every time Microsoft released a major AI feature this year. I couldn’t help but question the company’s new direction. Microsoft is a conservative and slow-moving giant, yet it is reshaping its products around artificial intelligence not long after most people learned generative AI existed. The last time it made such a shift we got Windows 8, a failed attempt at making its flagship OS tablet and touchscreen friendly.
The question arises: Is Microsoft jumping into AI to make its products better, or is it just trying to stake a claim as an AI innovator and hope that the technology lives up to the hype? It’s hard to tell at this point.
Microsoft isn’t great at timing, as evidenced by the Zune, WebTV, and Windows Phone. Its products often land too early to be useful or arrive too late to make an impact. However, when Microsoft unveiled its AI-powered Bing Chat earlier this year, it was perfectly positioned to capitalize on the success of ChatGPT, which reportedly reached 100 million users in two months. According to UBS analysts, that would have made ChatGPT the fastest-growing consumer application in history. Microsoft had nothing to lose.
After investing $13 billion in ChatGPT-maker OpenAI, Microsoft was probably eager to show off its shiny new toy ahead of Google and others. The introduction of Bing Chat kicked off Microsoft’s year of AI. Microsoft brought AI right into the heart of Windows and launched Copilot on Edge, Microsoft 365 products, and eventually made its way to Windows 11.
Copilot makes a great first impression. It returns direct answers to your questions, and there are no ads to wade through. It’s a glimpse at a world beyond search engines, where AI could help guide us through an increasingly chaotic media landscape. However, Copilot often makes errors and crashes more often than you’d think.
The big test for Microsoft’s Copilots and other generative AI tools comes down to one thing: trust. Can a user trust that it’ll deliver the relevant information when it asks a question? Can we be sure Copilot will even understand our query correctly?
I’ve been using Microsoft’s AI solutions since Bing Chat launched earlier this year, and while it’s helpful for simple tasks, it hasn’t exactly changed the way I work. Microsoft also had to seriously restrict Bing Chat’s capabilities early on after it started arguing with users and issuing disturbing responses.
We can look to Microsoft’s Github Copilot, which launched in November 2021, as one way users can learn to work with AI. It’s mainly meant to serve as a partner alongside an experienced programmer. While it can be genuinely useful for coders, it can also become a liability if it is used by novices, leading to buggy and difficult to understand code being added to software projects.
By leaning so much on Copilots in the future, Microsoft may also be tying itself too closely to OpenAI, a young company that recently went through a volatile event when its board fire CEO Sam Altman, suggesting that Microsoft’s AI future might be in question if OpenAI goes through another tumultuous event.