Microsoft’s new Copilot AI agents act like virtual employees to automate tasks

Microsoft will soon allow companies and developers to build AI-powered assistants that can act as virtual employees and perform tasks automatically. Instead of Copilot sitting idle waiting for queries, it will be able to do things like monitor email inboxes and automate a series of tasks or data entry that employees would normally have to do manually.

It’s a major change in co-pilot behavior in what the industry commonly calls AI agents, or the ability of chatbots to intelligently perform complex tasks autonomously.

“We realized very quickly that restricting Copilot to just conversation was very limiting what Copilot could do today,” explains Charles LaManna, corporate vice president of business applications and platforms at Microsoft, in an interview with Microsoft. the edge. “Instead of having a copilot waiting there for someone to chat with, what if you could make your copilot more proactive and be able to work in the background on automated missions.”

The new home page for Microsoft’s Copilot Studio.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is previewing this new capability today to a very small group of Early Access testers ahead of a public preview within Copilot Studio later this year. Businesses will be able to create a Copilot agent that can handle IT help desk service tasks, employee onboarding, and more. “Co-pilots evolve from co-pilots who work for you, to co-pilots who work for you,” Microsoft says in a blog post.

These Copilot agents will be triggered by specific events and will work with the company’s own data. Here’s how Microsoft describes potential co-pilot employee qualifications:

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

This type of automation naturally leads to questions about job losses and concerns about where artificial intelligence is headed next. Copilot agents can remove repetitive and mundane job tasks, such as data entry, rather than replace jobs entirely, Lamanna says.

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“What makes a job, what makes a role? It’s a collection of different tasks and it’s generally a very large number of diverse and heterogeneous tasks. If someone does one thing over and over again, it’s probably already been automated by Current technology.” “We believe that with Copilot and Copilot Studio, some tasks will be fully automated…but the good news is that most of the things being automated are things that no one really wants to do.”

Microsoft’s argument that it only wants to reduce the boring parts of your job seems utopian at the moment, but with the ongoing struggle for AI dominance among tech companies, it seems we’re on the verge of more than just basic automation. Lamanna believes that human judgment and collaboration are still an important part of getting work done and that not everything will be a fit for automation.

There are also still a lot of issues with generative AI at the moment, especially around hallucinations where it confidently makes things up. Microsoft says it has built a number of controls into Copilot Studio to push this AI agent so that Copilot doesn’t just go rogue and automate tasks freely. This is a big concern that we’ve already seen happen with Meta’s AI advertising tools failing to work and draining money.

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Agents inside the copilot studio.
Image: Microsoft

You can create Microsoft Copilot agents with the ability to flag specific scenarios for humans to review, which will be useful for more complex queries and data. All of this means that Copilot must operate within the confines of what is defined and the instructions and procedures associated with these automated tasks.

Microsoft is also making it easier for companies to bring their own data into their dedicated Copilot, with data connections to public websites, SharePoint, OneDrive, and more. This is part of a broader effort within Microsoft to make Copilot more than just a chatbot that creates things.

“Copilot in 2023 – and Microsoft – were very focused on digging into your data, summarizing your content, and creating new content. “We believe Copilot in 2024 will focus heavily on personalization,” Lamanna says. New Copilot extensions will enable some of this customization, allowing developers to build connectors that extend Copilot across the suite of business systems.

Microsoft also wants Copilot to work more with groups of people, rather than these individual experiences that have existed over the past year. The new Team Copilot feature will allow the Assistant to manage meeting agendas and notes, hold lengthy group conversations, or help 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 AI agents that automate your tasks, showing how Gmail users will be able to use an AI agent to automatically complete a return form for some shoes and have someone collect them.

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The big question that remains is how all these AI agents will actually work. We constantly see AI fail to respond to basic text prompts, provide incorrect answers to queries, or add extra fingers to photos. Do businesses and consumers really trust it enough to automate tasks in the background? I think we’re about to find out.

The Notebook by Tom Warren /

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