Skip to content

Warning! AI ‘help’ coming to Microsoft Office

Microsoft’s hints that AI ‘help’ is coming soon to Word, Outlook and other Office apps are for investors not paying customers.  Don’t get too excited (or worried) about the immediate future of AI tools into either Search or Office apps. There are problems with current AI offerings and traps for people if they aren’t careful.

Despite all the hype about “Artificial Intelligence” tools, they are still in a relatively early stage.  The much publicized ChatGPT and other text generating tools have serious problems, especially when it comes to factual accuracy.

Microsoft had AI blunders too

A lot was made of Google’s blunder in their demonstration of Bard, but Microsoft had similar, if not worse, problems in their “Prometheus”AI demo.  Google’s AI trouble made headlines and caused a drop in their share price.  Microsoft’s AI ‘issues’ went largely unnoticed, probably because Redmond is a lot more careful with their demos and choosing compliant writers to attend.

It’s not just big tech firms rushing into AI before it’s ready. Fast food outlets are also in the AI business.  McDonald’s attempts to let computer AI take orders haven’t gone well with accuracy below 85% when 95% is considered the minimum reliability (and that’s after two years of trials).

It’s about share price, not customers

The rush to release AI tools is all about the share price and investor confidence, not what’s best for customers.

Both companies are rushing their half-baked AI products to market.  Microsoft and Google see upstarts like ChatGPT and Dall-E getting way ahead and need to reassure investors that the corporate giants are still in the game. 

Maintaining the MSFT share price is a reason for the strategic leak to The Verge promising AI extras in Office apps as soon as next month.

Microsoft and Google raced each other to make rushed AI related announcements, making promises that probably aren’t possible in the short term.

AI problem areas

Just some of the problems with the current generation of AI tools.

  • The underlying database of information isn’t up-to-date.  ChatGPT openly admits that its database ends in 2021.
  • Misinterpreting facts when rewriting supplied text. That was the problem with the Microsoft demo.
  • Image AI is notoriously bad at drawing human hands.
  • Image AI assumes most humans are white males unless specified otherwise.

Like any ‘automatic’ tool, do should blindly accept the results. For many years Office Watch has recommended using Office’s Designer and templates as a helper that you can tweak to make a unique look.  It’ll be the same with the upcoming AI tools.

A few more things to watch out for …

Microsoft’s AI offerings for Office apps will be largely limited to Microsoft 365 customers even if the announcements just refer to ‘Microsoft Office’. 

So called “Outlook” features will mean only Microsoft 365 hosted mailboxes not Outlook software (Microsoft can’t stop misleading people with the term “Outlook”).

Use AI … with care

That’s not to say that the current AI tools aren’t useful.  They have a place if used with care.

Text based AI (ChatGPT) can do some amazing things, especially rewriting into different styles.  Even then, you have to carefully fact check the text or just shorten what can be long responses.

Image AI (Dall-E or Microsoft Designer) has the ability to make realistic photos or graphics in a wide-range of styles.

Designer is shaping up as an important addition to the Microsoft lineup and we’ve been encouraging people sign up for the preview.

Future AI possibilities in Office

Just some of the possible (if not probable) AI based features we’ll see in Office.

  • Suggested email replies. Microsoft Viva already has suggested draft replies so extending that to Microsoft hosted mailboxes is likely.
Draft Reply from Microsoft’s AI for Viva Sales. Source: Microsoft
  • Drafts in Word.  The Bing sidebar can already produce text based on a request such as “A letter complaining about a bill that’s too expensive.”
Bing sidebar to Word in a browser. Source: Microsoft
  • Converting data into tables or graphs for Word or PowerPoint. Bing can already do that to a limited extent.
  • Better Search results in Outlook. Using AI to parse a search requests such as “Emails about Sausages in the last two months”

By all means, check out the existing and upcoming AI tools. Just don’t let the hype about AI tools override your own good judgement.

Don’t wait – start using the new Microsoft Designer now
Word Designer: the quick way to better looking documents 

About this author

Office Watch is the independent source of Microsoft Office news, tips and help since 1996. Don't miss our famous free newsletter.