Microsoft Office 365, Cortana, Bing get AI upgrades, expanding productivity and analytics

New features include email summaries, Excel insights, and presenting multiple viewpoints to search inquiries.

Microsoft services will be getting smarter as they gain more artificial intelligence (AI)-driven features, the company announced Wednesday.

Office 365, Cortana, and Bing will use AI to help users find more useful information and perform more complex tasks, a press release said. The new features with the biggest impact for the enterprise come from Cortana and Office 365.

Cortana will be able to sort emails based on importance and summarize the most important ones, then provide an update during a commute. The feature will work across accounts, so the update could include notes from a personal Gmail account and work emails based in Outlook, according to the release. The feature could be useful for busy professionals with a constantly full inbox.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)

Another new Cortana feature will be skills chaining, which will suggest other skills that build on ones you already use. For example, if you use the assistant to buy tickets, it will suggest adding the event to your calendar, according to the release.

For Office 365, Excel will use machine learning to analyze data and show trends via pivot tables and charts, the release said.

"Data is incredibly valuable, but it's only valuable when you're actually able to extract insights from it," Rob Howard, director of product marketing for Office, said in the release.

For business professionals who require quick insights from smaller sets of data, the automated option could be helpful. Aside from quickly providing information, users won't need advanced Excel training to figure out the data they need.

Additional Office 365 features include figuring out what acronyms mean in Word documents by searching through emails and other documents, and being able to look through other Office files without leaving your current document.

AI will also be heading to Bing, aiming to meet changing user needs for search engines.

"They don't just want a list of websites," the release said about consumers' demands for search engines. "They might want a personalized answer, such as restaurant recommendations based on the city they are traveling in. Or they might want a variety of answers, so they can get different perspectives on a topic. They might even need help figuring out the right question to ask."

Bing features will include a visual search to help people find out more information about something in a photo, using computer vision, object recognition, and machine reading comprehension. Another will be teaching Bing to ask a user to provide more information if a question is too vague.

Additionally, when a user asks a potentially subjective question, Bing will respond with two different perspectives, the release said.

"That's part of Microsoft's effort to acknowledge that sometimes a question doesn't have a clear black and white answer," the release said.

Users are increasingly looking for opinions instead of simple facts like addresses or phone numbers, the release said. Bing will try to find the most applicable results and present them objectively, the release said.

Such changes may help consumers and business leaders alike access information more related to their question, and have greater confidence that the results are trustworthy. Seeing both sides of an argument may make users more informed and can help prepare for counterpoints.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Microsoft is boosting its everyday AI applications for Office 365, Cortana, and Bing, the company announced Wednesday.
  2. Cortana will be able to organize emails based on importance, summarizing the most important ones to update the user. Excel will use machine learning to provide automated insights into data.
  3. Bing will add a visual search, as well as provide multiple viewpoints when a user asks a subjective question.

Also see

Image: Mary Jo Foley/ZDNet

About Olivia Krauth

Olivia Krauth is an Education Reporter at Insider Louisville.

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