Artificial intelligence (AI) is the technology of the hour, and it’s something the Big Tech companies are keen to capitalise on.
It comes as no surprise then that two of the industry’s giants, Microsoft and Google, have both announced the introduction of new AI-assisted software in the same week.
Google, which has been investing in artificial intelligence (AI) for many years, said it had reached “a pivotal moment” in its AI journey.
Earlier this week, the company revealed it’s introducing new AI-powered features to Google Workspace - Gmail, Meet, Docs - and the power of AI to developers and businesses looking to build on Google’s language models.
"We’re in the midst of another shift with AI that is having a profound effect on every industry," said Thomas Kurian, CEO of GoogleCloud, in a statement.
On Thursday, Microsoft also announced it would be infusing AI tools into its suite of office software, including Word, Excel, and Outlook emails.
"Today marks the next major step in the evolution of how we interact with computing, which will fundamentally change the way we work and unlock a new wave of productivity growth," Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, said in a statement.
So, what changes are in store for users of the rivals’ software?
Google Workspace: Innovators' new best friend?
The old days of writer's block and terrifying blank pages might be over. Google plans to embed a generative AI in Docs and Gmail to help people with their writing.
The AI model can help create automated drafts for job descriptions, or invitations to your birthday party.
"Simply type a topic you’d like to write about, and a draft will instantly be generated for you. With your collaborative AI partner you can continue to refine and edit, getting more suggestions as needed," explained Kurian.
AI will also help workers rewrite their messages to hone the right tone and structure. For example, users could use commands such as "make this more formal," and if they don’t like the first result, a "view another" button will provide options. If users don’t know what tone they want, an “I’m feeling lucky” option in Gmail will provide "a new playful voice altogether".
The new AI features will allow workers to summarise and catch up with long email threads or create briefs based on several Google Docs or emails.
More than 3 billion people already use the AI-powered features of Google Workspace, such as Smart Reply and Smart Compose in Gmail, or the auto-generated summaries in Google Docs.
Across Google Workspace, advances in AI will allow users to, for example, create auto-generated images based on a prompt, write email briefs, build digital presentations, filter long email threads, and more.
And there’s good news for developers, too. The company is also introducing new features to allow innovators to prototype and build their own language models.
For example, a new app called Generative AI App Builder will allow businesses and governments to build their own AI-powered chats and digital assistants.
Microsoft’s Copilot: New ChatGPT-style bot
In a similar vein to Google, Microsoft’s AI-powered processing engine, - a new feature they’ve called named Copilot - will also allow users to do things like summarise long emails, draft stories in Word, and animate slides in PowerPoint.
Microsoft is marketing the feature as a tool that will allow workers to be more productive by freeing up time they usually spend in their inbox, or allowing them to easily analyse trends in Excel.
In a significant move, the tech giant will also add a chat function called Business Chat, which resembles the popular ChatGPT.
It takes commands and carries out actions - like summarising an email about a particular project to co-workers - using user data.
'The best is yet to come'
As with all new technology advancements, there comes a warning.
"AI is no replacement for the ingenuity, creativity, and smarts of real people. Sometimes the AI gets things wrong, sometimes it delights you with something offbeat, and oftentimes it requires guidance," said Johanna Voolich, vice president of products at Google Workspace, in a statement.
The company is designing its new features in accordance with its AI Principles, which keep the user in control, letting AI make suggestions that they are able to accept, edit, and change.
Google will also deliver the corresponding administrative controls so that businesses and governments are able to set the right limits for their organisations.
It is not clear when the company will roll out the rest of its "best to come" features, but Google said it will first collect customers' input and data to refine and improve its offering, "AI-based capabilities get better with human feedback".
The new tools will first be launched in English in the United States, and from there, once feedback is applied, they will become available more broadly to consumers.
Workers will be able to access using the AI assistance by clicking a new wand icon that’ll appear in their apps.
"In the same way that we revolutionised real-time collaboration with co-authoring in Docs 17 years ago, we’re excited to transform creation and collaboration all over again in Workspace," the company said.
Similarly, Microsoft will also soft launch its new AI-driven tools with Colette Stallbaumer, Microsoft 365 General Manager, noting that the new features are currently only available for 20 enterprise customers. Copilot will roll it out for more enterprise customers over the coming months.