Microsoft’s new Copilot AI agents act as virtual workers to automate tasks

Microsoft will soon let businesses and developers create AI-powered copilots that can work like virtual workers and perform tasks automatically. Instead of sitting idle for copilot queries, you can monitor email inboxes and automate repetitive tasks or data entry that employees would normally do manually.

This is a major change in the behavior of copilots, what the industry commonly calls AI agents, or chatbots’ ability to intelligently perform complex tasks autonomously.

Charles LaManna, corporate vice president of business applications and platforms at Microsoft, said, “We realized very quickly that restricting how Copilot engages in conversation is very limiting of what Copilot can do today. on the edge. “Instead of having a copilot waiting for someone to chat with him, what if you could make your copilot more efficient and able to work in the background on automated tasks.”

Microsoft’s new Copilot Studio homepage.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is previewing this new capability today to a very small group of Early Access testers, ahead of a public preview inside Copilot Studio later this year. Businesses can create a Copilot agent that can handle IT help desk service tasks, employee onboarding, and more. “Copilots are evolving from copilots working with you to copilots working for you,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

These Copilot agents are triggered by certain events and act on the business’s own data. Here’s how Microsoft describes a potential copilot for employee engagement:

Imagine you are a new employee. A proactive co-pilot greets you, answers HR data and your questions, introduces you to your friend, gives you training and deadlines, helps you with forms and sets up your first week of meetings. Now, HR and employees can work on their regular tasks, without the hassle of management.

This kind of automation naturally leads to questions about job losses and fears about where AI is headed next. Instead of replacing jobs entirely, Lamanna argues that Copilot agents can eliminate repetitive and mundane tasks of work, such as data entry.

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“What works, what makes a character? It’s a collection of different tasks, usually a huge number of very different and heterogeneous tasks. If someone is doing a thing repeatedly, it’s already automated by current technology,” says Lamanna. “Some tasks with CoPilot and CoPilot Studio We think it will be fully automated.

Microsoft’s argument that it only wants to cut down on the boring bits of your work sounds great for now, but with the ongoing battle for AI dominance among tech companies, it feels like we’re on the edge of more than basic automation. Lamanna believes that human judgment and collaboration are still important parts of getting work done, and not everything is amenable to automation.

There are still a lot of problems with AI that can be created right now, especially with illusions that it can reliably create objects with. Microsoft says it has built several controls into Copilot Studio to drive this AI agent, so that Copilot doesn’t just go rogue and automates tasks independently. A big concern is that we’ve already seen Meta’s own AI ad tools misbehave and blow through money.

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Agents at Copilot Studio.
Image: Microsoft

You can create Microsoft’s copilot agents with the ability to flag certain views for human review, which is useful for more complex queries and data. All of these must operate within the bounds of what the copilot defines and the mechanisms and actions associated with these automated tasks.

Microsoft also makes it easy for businesses to bring their own data into their custom GoPilot, with data connections to public websites, SharePoint, OneDrive, and more. It’s part of Microsoft’s broader effort to make Copilot more than just a chatbot that creates things.

“In 2023 Copilot – and Microsoft – focused heavily on searching your data, curating your content and creating new content. We think Copilot will be very focused on personalization in 2024,” says Lamanna. The new Copilot Extensions enable part of this customization, allowing developers to create connectors that extend Copilot into an array of business systems.

Microsoft wants Copilot to work more with groups of people instead of these one-on-one experiences from last year. A new Team Copilot feature will let the assistant manage meeting agendas and notes, moderate long team chats, or assign tasks and track deadlines in Microsoft Planner. Microsoft plans to preview Team Copilot later this year.

At Google I/O last week, the search giant also showed off some early concepts for its own AI agents that automate tasks for you, showing how Gmail users could use an AI agent to automatically fill out a return form for certain shoes. Someone collects them.

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The big question that remains is how all these AI agents will actually work. We continue to see AI fail at basic text prompts, give incorrect answers to queries or add extra fingers to images, so do businesses and consumers trust it enough to automate tasks in the background? I guess we’re going to find out.

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