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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 2023, 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 last November, Microsoft decided to 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 can provide you with up-to-date information, which is another capability 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 even generate images from text by using Image Creator from Microsoft Designer 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, any of Microsoft's AI companions that assist with a specific application or service will say so in the title. For example Copilot in Windows, Copilot for Microsoft 365, Copilot for Sales, Copilot for Service, Copilot for FinanceCopilot for Security, etc. 

What is Copilot's latest update?

In December last year, Microsoft announced Copilot would be getting several new features, the most significant being the ability to use GPT-4 Turbo, OpenAI's latest model, to generate responses. 

Also: Microsoft quietly upgraded Copilot's free version to GPT-4 Turbo. Here's why it matters

Then in March 2024, Microsoft replaced GPT-4 with GPT-4 Turbo in the free version of Copilot. GPT-4 Turbo was anticipated to take the chatbot's abilities to new limits with knowledge of world events up to December 2023 and a 128K context window, four times larger than that of GPT-4. In my testing, I found that GPT-4 Turbo did improve the chatbot's capabilities. 

When can we expect other major Copilot announcements?

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

Also: Microsoft confirms next Windows, Surface, and AI event. Here's what to expect

However, to announce major Copilot updates, Microsoft typically waits for a bigger stage, such as a company event like Microsoft Build or Microsoft Ignite. The next major event is the Microsoft Windows, Surface, and AI event on March 21. 

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 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 2023, 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: 5 ways college students can use Copilot for Microsoft 365, starting next month

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

Microsoft's latest upgrade in March 2024 means the free version of Copilot runs on GPT-4 Turbo, OpenAI's most advanced LLM, and an upgrade from GPT-4. Copilot Pro users, however, can still toggle between the previous LLM -- GPT-4 -- and GPT-4 Turbo.

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. 

Also: The best AI image generators of 2024: Tested and reviewed

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. 

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

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 4,000 characters per chat on Copilot.

Also: The best AI chatbots of 2024: ChatGPT and alternatives

Who has access to the Copilot chatbot?

Anyone can access Copilot. Just visit the Copilot website and sign in with your Microsoft account.

Do you need a Microsoft account to access Copilot?

Yes, you must sign in with your Microsoft account to access Copilot. Making an account is free and easy. All you do is visit account.microsoft.com and click "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, including 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 its standalone Copilot app. Users can also access Copilot on mobile via the Bing App. Although the Bing App is not solely dedicated to the chatbot, Copilot can be found in the bottom bar front and center as soon as you open the Bing app. 

Is there a Copilot premium subscription?

Microsoft unveiled Copilot Pro, a supercharged subscription version of Copilot, on January 15, 2024. 

With the subscription, users get access to a single AI experience across all devices, which gives you better assistance, priority access to the latest models, including OpenAI's GPT-4 Turbo, enhanced AI image creation, and the ability to create your own Copilot GPTs.

Also: Microsoft Copilot Pro vs. OpenAI's ChatGPT Plus: Which is worth your $20 a month?

One of the biggest perks is that, if you are a Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscriber, the Copilot Pro subscription includes access to Copliot in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote on PC, Mac, and iPad.

The Copilot Pro subscription costs $20 per month per user -- the same price as ChatGPT's premium subscription, ChatGPT Plus, and Google's Premium AI subscription, Google One AI Premium Plan.

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: Microsoft Copilot vs. Copilot Pro: Is the subscription fee worth it?

Microsoft's first involvement with OpenAI was in 2019, when Microsoft invested $1 billion, and then $2 billion in the years after. In January 2023, 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 would 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. 

Also: Microsoft Copilot for Security will move to general availability on April 1

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 feedback was 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: Microsoft unveils Copilot Lab to help users get the most out of its AI assistant

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

Does Copilot have an enterprise solution?

On July 18, 2023, Microsoft announced Bing Chat Enterprise, a version of its AI-powered chatbot that is secure and suited to the workplace. 

"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. 

Bing Chat Enterprise was rebranded to Copilot in November 2023. 

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