Opinion: Why Satya Nadella's Generative AI Demo Blew Me Away

I am a jaded tech veteran and very few tech announcements make me sit up in excitement. However, a recent demo by Satya Nadella talking about how Generative AI will change work not only got me standing in sheer astonishment, but also shook the ground beneath my feet.

Satya Nadella and Microsoft did a live demo of how Generative AI (mostly GPT4) infused into Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Teams which will start "a new era of computing", using the most human interface of them all - language, or the power of the written and spoken word.

In reverse order, here are the six points that super-impressed me:

Six: History: Nadella framed this as a historical moment in how we work with computers. The word 'historical' is often abused, but this deserves it. It is up there with GUI, point-and-click, Web, Browser and the iPhone. A completely new way of interacting with machines, and of working. On a sidenote, Nadella's knowledge of history was quite impressive too. He mentioned Vannevar Bush's vision of the Memex in As We May Think  and Douglas Englebart's Mother of All Demos in 1968. Both were historical announcements which changed work forever, so is this one.

Five: Autopilot to Copilot: AI has been working behind the scenes to power pretty much everything we do - search, social networking, maps, Netflix, shopping. Like electricity, we only think of it when it is NOT there. So it is like an autopilot, steering our lives from behind the scenes. Microsoft has now brought it out of the background to the very middle of our lives, as a copilot - driving and navigating our work and our lives with us. The product is aptly named Microsoft 365 Copilot, and works hand-in-hand with humans.

Four: Humans have agency: What is heartening is that the final word is always with a human. Copilot generates an email or a Word document or a slide deck with almost frightening competency, but it still makes mistakes (which Microsoft refreshingly admits). You can tweak, edit or add stuff to make it resemble your work. The drudgery is done by Copilot, you put your creativity on top. In some sense, Artificial Intelligence becomes Augmented Intelligence.

Three: How all apps work seamlessly together: You can create a sales proposal in Word, and with the click of a button the Copilot creates a PowerPoint deck. If you want to plan a party, Copilot scans contacts, creates a To-Do List, suggests venues based on your earlier party venues, and then put out an email invite. It parses your business plan in Excel, summarises it and creates graphs and decks based on the insights and questions! The cross-app work is stunning.

Two: The speed of execution: Microsoft is an aircraft carrier size tech behemoth, but it is moving at the speed of one of Elon Musk's SpaceX rockets. GPT4 was launched three days back; the next day Microsoft showcased Copilot using LLMs like GPT4. The blistering pace set by this gigantic company can give sleepless nights not only to other tech giants, but also startups known for their speed and nimbleness.

One: Microsoft's own Walled Garden: All other Big Techs have created Walled Gardens to entrap their customers and make them loyal, or used Graphs to keep them within these Gardens. Meta famously created the Social Graph with all your friends and contacts, and then kept you moving between Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp where this Graph sits. Google created its Knowledge Graph - with Search as the pivot and extending to Mail, Maps, App Stores, Chrome, Android, YouTube - its own powerful Walled Garden. Apple created the Garden with the highest Walls; once enslaved by the iOS / iPhone, you never went away to Windows or Android. Microsoft has always had immensely powerful work properties like Windows and its suite of 365 Apps, but never created seamless connectivity between these. With CoPilot, it creates the Microsoft Graph across Excel, PowerPoint, Word, OneDrive and Teams. Soon, for example, Teams will make more sense than Zoom as it crosslinks with all your data and information across other apps and puts them together for you.

Nadella announced the product underpinning this Graph, Business Chat, which works across your email, your Word documents, Excel Sheets, PowerPoint decks, OneDrive data, and Teams Calls. If you want to write a sales proposal on something, it finds out everything about it across these properties and puts it together, effectively breaking these silos and sparing you hours of work to look around for information and assembling it.

CoPilot is a combination of three things stitched together: 365 Apps, Microsoft Graph and an LLM like GPT4. But it is the Graph that I believe will make Microsoft the Biggest of the BigTech in months and years to come. Besides changing work forever.

(Jaspreet Bindra is a technology expert, author of 'The Tech Whisperer', and is currently pursuing his Masters in AI and Ethics from Cambridge University)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.