Microsoft adds more AI-powered updates to Bing, Cortana, Office 365

Bing, Cortana and Office 365 are getting more features that Microsoft is categorizing as powered by AI. Here's what's coming.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is continuing to infuse more AI smarts into its Bing web search, Cortana digital assistant and Office 365 services.

At a press and analyst event in San Francisco on December 13, company officials showed off some of the incremental AI-powered updates it is introducing to these services. Microsoft's overriding message was that in addition to providing big-bang AI advances, like its just-unveiled quantum-computing development kit, it also is delivering more "everyday AI" ones, too, by integrating AI-driven tech into its core products and services.

At a time when news and other information is under increased scrutiny for bias and intentional fakery, Microsoft is adding multiple viewpoints to Bing search results. Asking Bing "is cholesterol bad?" will result in two different answers to that question. (These viewpoints won't be shown when a query has an agreed-upon factual answer, such as when a historical figure was born.)

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft also is working to make Bing at helping people find information, even when they aren't exactly sure how to search for it. Microsoft is adding prompts to guide users to supply more information on what they're hoping to find, whether it be a name or model of a gadget.

Microsoft has partnered with social aggregation site Reddit to add Reddit information to Bing search results. Reddit information from conversations, communities and Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything) sessions will be included in search results.

What's the AI connection to all this? Microsoft says it is using machine-reading comprehension that runs on Project Brainwave on Intel field programmable gate arrays to read, analyze and understand all this information and to validate answers across multiple sources. And it's taking cues from its bots like Zo.ai in helping figure out how to prompt users in their queries, officials said.

Microsoft is continuing to add more AI-centric functionality to Cortana. Cortana will be able to sort emails and provide summaries of the most important ones from Outlook, Gmail and other accounts. Microsoft also is adding "skills chaining" to Cortana, enabling Cortana not just to book tickets but to also subsequently add an event to a user's calendar. Cortana also can now access users Google calendars, not just Outlook.

Microsoft already has added some AI smarts to Office 365 to enable it to make suggestions in Word documents and declutter users' inboxes. It also is introducing a preview of Office Insights that relies on machine learning to analyze Excel spreadsheet data to create pivot tables, charts and other easy-to-digest analytical information.

Microsoft also is working on a new tool called Acronyms that will be part of Word Online starting in 2018, which will sift through Office documents and emails to help users find definitions of acronyms specific to their companies. Tap -- a new feature in Word -- will help users to find relevant documents, spreadsheets and other relevant information without having to exit a Word document. This will let users add a chart to a presentation without having to sift through email to find it.

Microsoft also announced today that its Azure Bot Service and Cognitive Services Language Understanding (LUIS) tools are generally available. Microsoft is aiming these services at developers and data scientists who want to build bots that can converse more naturally.

Editorial standards