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What is Copilot (formerly Bing Chat)? Here's everything you need to know

Microsoft's AI chatbot has proved to be a worthy ChatGPT rival, even earning it a spot as ZDNET's best chatbot.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
Microsoft Copilot
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

What is Copilot (formerly Bing Chat)?

In early February of 2022, Microsoft unveiled a new version of its search engine Bing, with its standout feature being its AI chatbot that is powered by more advanced technology than ChatGPT, OpenAI's GPT-4

At the time of launch, the AI chatbot was called Bing Chat. However, during the Microsoft Ignite event in November, Microsoft decided to entirely rebrand its chatbot and call it Copilot instead. 

Also: How to use Copilot (formerly called Bing Chat)

With Copilot, you can ask the AI chatbot questions and get detailed, human-like responses with footnotes that link back to the original sources. Since the chatbot is connected to the internet, it has the ability to provide you with up-to-date information, which is another capability that ChatGPT's free version doesn't boast. 

The chatbot can help you with your creative desires, such as writing a poem, essay, or song. It can solve complex math or coding tasks, and it can even generate images from text by using Bing's Image Creator within the same platform. 

Is there more than one Copilot?

Microsoft's AI chatbot, formerly called Bing, is now called Copilot. To make matters just a tad more confusing, Microsoft also named all of its AI companions Copilot. 

Also: What are Microsoft's different Copilots? Here's what they are and how you can use them

However, if Microsoft is referring to any of its other AI companions created to assist with a specific service, it will say so in the title. For example: Copilot in Windows, Copilot for Microsoft 365, Copilot for Sales, Copilot for Service, etc. 

What are the latest major announcements regarding Copilot?

The most recent and biggest change occurred in November 2023, when Microsoft shifted the branding of its popular AI chatbot from Bing Chat to Copilot. 

Also: Bing Chat now goes by Copilot and feels a lot more like ChatGPT

In addition to changing the name, the shift made Bing Chat more of a standalone experience, like it's major competitor, ChatGPT, with its own standalone web page

When can you expect other major Copilot announcements?

Microsoft has been consistently adding new features to Copilot and sharing those updates via its Bing Blog

Also: The best AI chatbots: ChatGPT and other noteworthy alternatives

However, to announce major Copilot updates, Microsoft typically waits for a bigger stage, such as a company event like Microsoft Build or Microsoft Ignite. This explainer is constantly updated with all of the latest news, so it's a good place to check for the newest updates.

When was Copilot/Bing Chat originally announced?

On February 7, 2023, Microsoft announced the new Bing in limited preview, meaning only a select number of people had access to it. This announcement came a day after Google announced its AI chatbot, Google Bard

Also: How to save or copy your Bing Chat responses

On May 4, 2023, Microsoft made the new Bing available to anyone who was willing to sign in to Bing with their Microsoft account. 

What language model does Copliot use?

When Microsoft announced Copilot, then called Bing Chat, in February, it said the chatbot would run on a next-generation OpenAI large language model (LLM) customized specifically for search. 

Microsoft said the next-gen LLM powering the new Bing was faster, more accurate, and "more capable" than ChatGPT or GPT-3.5, the LLM behind ChatGPT. 

Also: How to use Bing Image Creator (and why it's better than DALL-E 2)

Five weeks after launching, Microsoft revealed that Bing Chat runs on OpenAI's latest language model, GPT-4.

At the moment, the only free way to access GPT-4 is Copilot. GPT-4 is a more reliable, intelligent, and capable model than its predecessor, GPT-3.5. ChatGPT Plus users can access GPT-4 with a ChatGPT Plus subscription. 

What types of inputs does does Copilot accept?

Like ChatGPT and all AI chatbots, Copilot can help with text queries, including (but not limited to) research, writing assistance, coding, and more. 

However, in addition, it can accept image inputs, which sets it apart from a lot of chatbots, including ChatGPT. 

This feature allows users to upload images that they would like more information about, or that relate to the prompt in some way, and to learn about the pictures. 

AlsoYou can access Google's latest AI experiments with Google Labs. Here's how

For example, I uploaded an image of my puppy and asked Copilot what breed he was. Within seconds, it released a response that was accurate. 

What is Copilot's chat limit?

Since being released, the chatbot has gone through a series of chat limit changes. The most recent is a character limit of 2,000 characters per chat on Copilot.

Who has access to Copilot chatbot?

Anyone can access Copilot simply by visiting the Copilot website and signing in with their Microsoft account.

Do you need a Microsoft account to access Copilot?

Yes, you need to sign in with your Microsoft account to access Copilot. Making an account is free and easy. All you have to do is visit account.microsoft.com and click on "Create one".

What can you do with Copilot?

You can use Copilot for the same prompts you would use with any other AI chatbot, such as ChatGPT, including the ability to generate new content, such as images, essays, code, text, and more. 

AlsoI've tested a lot of AI tools for work. These are my 5 favorite so far

Copilot can also serve as a more conversational search engine. Since it has access to the internet, Copilot can answer any question you have about current events, history, random facts, and more -- concisely and conversationally. 

Lastly, Copilot accepts image inputs, which allows you to ask questions and learn more about any image you upload. For example, you can upload an image of a painting and ask who painted it. 

Is there a Copilot app?

Yes, Copilot is accessible on mobile for both iPhone and Android devices via the Bing app. Although it's not solely dedicated to the chatbot, Copilot can be found in the bottom bar front and center as soon as you open the app. 

What is Microsoft's involvement with ChatGPT?

Microsoft was involved with ChatGPT before incorporating it into its Bing browser. The tech giant was an early investor in OpenAI, the AI research company behind ChatGPT, even before ChatGPT was released to the public. 

Also: How to use AI chatbots to do research for papers, presentations, studies, and more

Microsoft's first involvement with OpenAI was in 2019, when Microsoft invested $1 billion, and then $2 billion in the years after. In January, Microsoft extended its partnership with OpenAI through a multi-year, multi-billion dollar investment

Neither company disclosed the investment value, but unnamed sources told Bloomberg it will total $10 billion over multiple years. In return, Microsoft's Azure service will be OpenAI's exclusive cloud-computing provider, powering all OpenAI workloads across research, products, and API services.

What was the initial controversy around Microsoft's Bing AI chatbot?

Select users were given early access to the chatbot, and they were not shy about sharing their experiences. Many of these users tested the chatbot's capabilities and exposed its flaws, which were varied. 

From revealing its confidential codename used internally by developers to declaring its love to a New York Times writer and asking him to leave his wife, the chatbot was acting out of hand. 

Consequently, Microsoft reeled in the chatbot with a new session limit, changing chat sessions from unlimited to a five-question limit, and a 50-chat turn limit per day. That limit was then expanded to six chat turns per session and 60 total chats per day, still less than the original experience users got. 

Microsoft noted that convoluted, long chat sessions were not something it was testing for internally, so the public's use and feedback has actually been useful in learning more about the chatbot. 

"In fact, the very reason we are testing the new Bing in the open with a limited set of preview testers is precisely to find these atypical use cases from which we can learn and improve the product," said Microsoft. 

Is Copilot better than ChatGPT?

ZDNET has tested both Copilot and Open AI's ChatGPT chatbot. We found Bing's version solved some of the major problems we had with ChatGPT, including knowledge of current events via internet access, and footnotes with links to sources from the information it pulled. 

Also: ChatGPT vs. Bing: Which AI chatbot is better for you?

Copilot is also the only way to access OpenAI's latest LLM, GPT-4, and its multimodal input features for free. For these reasons, Copilot, formerly Bing Chat, earned its spot as ZDNET's overall best AI chatbot.

Will a premium tier come to Copilot anytime soon?

Even though Microsoft announced that several major upgrades would be coming to the chatbot soon, the company hasn't mentioned charging customers to use the technology.  

"Our goal is always for all these features, to be able to get to worldwide coverage, we want to make sure that thing is accessible to any market along the way," Dena Saunders, partner general manager for Bing, told ZDNET.

Also: 4 ways generative AI can stimulate the creator economy

This availability further differentiates Copilot from ChatGPT, which introduced ChatGPT Plus, its subscription service to offer customers perks, such as the latest features. 

Does Copilot have an enterprise solution?

On July 18, Microsoft announced Bing Chat Enterprise, a version of its AI-powered chatbot that is secure and suited to the workplace. 

AlsoBing Chat's enterprise solution is here. This is what it can offer your business

"With Bing Chat Enterprise, user and business data are protected and will not leak outside the organization. What goes in -- and comes out -- remains protected," said Microsoft. 

Upon release, Bing Chat Enterprise rolled out in preview at no additional cost for Microsoft 365 E3, E5, Business Standard, and Business Premium account holders. However, in the future, Microsoft disclosed it will charge a $5 per user fee. 

Bing Chat Enterprise was also rebranded to simply be called Copilot in November 2023. 

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