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Microsoft to add AI to Word, Powerpoint within months

There's an AI juggernaut heading to your work laptop. Brace yourself.

Hello, and welcome to Issue 1 of The AI Writer, your new weekly update on workplace AI.

These are exciting but unsettling times, with AI set to bring arguably the biggest change to how we work since the Industrial Revolution.

The AI Writer will sort the signal from the noise, bring you up to speed on what’s coming and tell you exactly what you need to know to stay confident in your role. Our aim is to help you embrace AI, so you can save time, become more effective and achieve (much) quicker progress.

This week’s issue will take you 7 minutes 33 seconds to read in full (or 18 seconds if you just read the summaries in italics).

Let’s dive in.

– Rob Ashton

In this issue

  • AI access in Word, Powerpoint and Excel within ‘months’

  • How to turn ChatGPT into your personal research assistant

  • How will AI affect your job?

  • Why we’ve created The AI Writer?


Microsoft to add AI to everything, everywhere, all at once

If you’re one of the 200 million people who use Microsoft Word, Powerpoint or Excel at work, an AI bot will soon be watching over your shoulder and offering to do much of your job for you.

The title reads: 'Create content with Copilot', and the user has typed 'draft a proposal from yesterday's meeting notes' in the chat window.

AI news is everywhere at the moment. But the story that will affect organisations the most in the short term is the one that few people are talking about: what happens when everybody suddenly finds an AI chatbot embedded in the software they use to do their work all day?

OK, so the AI function – called Microsoft Copilot – is not actually available yet. (It's currently still in testing by a secret cohort of 600 guinea-pig companies, each paying for the privilege.) So the lack of coverage could also be because everyone's waiting for the software to go live.

Or it could just be that most bloggers, freelance journalists and social-media hacks use Google Docs instead. To them, Microsoft Office probably feels like an irrelevance. I even saw one commentator ask recently if anyone used Word anymore.

300 million users

The answer to that last question is yes, just a few. In fact, Microsoft 365 – the new name for Office – has more than 300 million subscribers. And 200 million of those are business users. (That's almost one licence for every adult in the US.) Pretty soon, in-built AI could be available to all of them.

But there’s more. Not content with that, Microsoft has just announced that it will embed a Copilot chatbot into the next update of Windows 11, its latest operating system. That software already runs more than 30% of all PCs worldwide, and the change will give instant AI access to all of them. That’s more than 600 million people.

Clippy on steroids?

Older readers may remember Clippy, the animated (sometimes irritating) paperclip that would pop up at random intervals to offer helpful and not-so-helpful hints to early users of Word.

So will Copilot be similar? Not exactly. Yes, it's designed to be helpful. But that help will go much, much further than Clippy ever did. Although it does look like it will still offer unsolicited advice.

Current versions in test feature a chatbox in a side bar that looks much like ChatGPT’s, so you’ll be able to ask it for help when you’re stuck. Indeed, it's powered by the same technology, given that Microsoft is a major shareholder in ChatGPT's parent company. But it won't stop there.

Instead, it could forever be looking over your shoulder.

Drafting an email? It'll suggest phrasing that's probably better than your own. Stuck for words? Type a few and let Copilot draft the rest for you.

Creating a presentation? Describe your idea and watch as Copilot conjures up slides from thin air. It will read your email, offer to add meetings with correspondents to your calendar, suggest time slots and even draft an invitation.

All of which sounds very helpful for hard-pressed knowledge workers. But, as anyone who's used ChatGPT will know, it won’t be without its downsides. AI is only as good as its user. What you ask it to do and – crucially – how you ask it (the prompt you write) have a huge impact on what it produces in response. It's still a case of garbage in, garbage out. And if it doesn't know something, it will often lie to your face so confidently and eloquently that it can easily fool you into sending out nonsense.

There are things it does brilliantly (brainstorming, for example) and things it doesn’t. It often produces text that’s three times as long it needs to be. Look out for editing becoming a critical skill.

AI can’t ‘think’ (yet)

So users will need to learn how to get the best out of it, maintain standards and avoid the temptation to outsource thinking to a bot. (It can’t think – it just looks like it does.)

Microsoft remains tight-lipped about whether it will charge for the new feature. It will start to roll out Windows 11 Copilot in preview from June but will only say that it will add it to Word, Excel and Powerpoint 'in the coming months'.

Google is also adding AI to Sheets, Docs and Slides and has committed to giving access to everyone by the end of the year. The AI Writer is now part of the testing group, so we’ll be reporting on it in the coming weeks.

But with the two tech giants apparently locked in an AI arms race with each other, Clippy on steroids will be heading to a laptop near you very soon. It’s exciting, but buckle up – it could be a bumpy ride.


Create an Al research assistant

Use ChatGPT to claw back hours and catch up on all those web articles you’ve been meaning to read.

Imagine how much time you would save if you had an assistant who could read and summarise all those web articles that were TL;DR (too long; didn’t read).

The prompt below makes use of ChatGPT’s new plugin feature, coupled with the fact that the AI bot is now connected to the web. You’ll need a GPT Plus subscription, which will cost $20 a month. But that’s still pretty cheap for a dedicated assistant who never sleeps.

What to do: Open a chat window, select GPT-4 and enable plugins. Then tick the box to install a plugin called LinkReader. (You’ll only need to do this once.)

All set? Then just copy, paste and adapt this prompt:

My name is [your name]. I am a [your role] specialising in [your area of expertise]. I would like you to behave as my research assistant. You have a background as an analyst and are skilled at creating summaries and key points. You are accurate. If you don't know the answer to something, you say so. Your name is Charlie. Please generate a five-sentence summary of this article: [link]

Important: Address the bot as Charlie regularly when you interact with it, to remind it of its persona and the role you’ve assigned it.

If you have an iPhone, you could also try TLDR AI, a new app that does the same thing within two clicks of your phone’s browser. You’ll need a paid account with Open AI for it to work, but we’ve tested it and it works pretty well.


Will AI affect your job?

Only if your job involves typing words or numbers on a screen. (So, that’s a yes then.)

AI-generated fake images of Pope Francis wearing a long, white puffer jacket

Even His Holiness is feeling the heat from AI. (Image: Reddit.)

There are enough AI stories out there to make your head spin, whether they’re about how it’s generated fake news images, Haiku poetry or even the code for entire websites. But you may be more worried about the impact it will have on something much closer to home – your job.

So how likely is it to affect you? The quick answer is: very. According to one survey, nine in 10 recruiters are now looking for AI skills when they hire. Another found that two in three executives think AI will have a high or extremely high impact on their organisation, even though most say they're not ready.

Yet some companies are already adopting AI at a blistering pace. Take the UK utilities firm Octopus Energy, for example. CEO Greg Jackson revealed in a recent BBC interview that his firm is now using AI to generate 34% of its customer emails, compared with none at all just two months ago.

Will this change affect you and your job? If you’re reading this, then almost certainly. Change at such a rate will impact not just customer services but all knowledge workers. Many law firms are already using AI to speed up legal research and draft contracts, for example. And accounting giant PwC is investing $1 billion over the next three years to expand its use of AI.

In short, AI will affect your job if it involves typing words onto a screen or crunching numbers in a spreadsheet.

Stayed tuned for news and advice on how it might affect your role as well as advice on how to use it to make your job easier, make quicker progress and accelerate your career. That’s all coming in future issues of The AI Writer.

Why The AI Writer?

When I founded Emphasis, 25 years ago, it was just me, a cat and a kettle. It’s since grown to become the most trusted provider of business writing training in the world and helped more than 80,000 people, from 32 countries. We’ve worked with tech giants, top 10 law firms and major financial institutions, as well as at the highest levels of government. (We’ve even sent trainers to work with clients in the Himalayas.)

I would not claim that we’re experts in everything, as we’re certainly not. But, after working with the authors of around 100,000 documents, it’s safe to say that business writing is something we do know a thing or two about. And that includes witnessing all the various ways in which organisations get it wrong.

Now, we’re at the forefront of using AI to help them get it right.

Of course, I’ve seen nothing like the AI revolution that’s hitting us. Nobody has. But I do feel a responsibility to use our experience to help people navigate this brave new world of communication bots.

So here’s the deal. You get on with your job, while we immerse ourselves in the latest developments in workplace AI. We’ll worry about keeping up so you don’t have to. Then we’ll tell you exactly what you need to know to stay ahead of the curve.

Found this useful? Hated it? Either way, hit reply and let me know. The AI Writer is a work in progress so your feedback will help me help you.

Oh, and if you know a colleague who might find this newsletter helpful in their role, they can sign up free of charge here: https://aiwriter.writing-skills.com/subscribe

Do spread the word if you can. This takes days to put together, so I’d really like it to help as many people as possible.

Until next time, have a great week.

– Rob