Microsoft’s First Business-Oriented AI

The managers of the 180 million people who use Microsoft 365 worldwide are going to be among the first to see how AI can impact the modern workplace. There’s an aspect to this that is really important for ResultsBI users, and for managers and entrepreneurs in general. Before we get to that, let me tell you what they’ve done.

It’s called “Project Cortex,” and it will start rolling out in Microsoft 365 early next year. Its goal is pretty modest, but the way it’s going about achieving that goal is not.

Basically, what Project Cortex does is comb through everything text-based within a company’s systems, such as emails, documents and calendars, and figure out how acronyms and other terms are defined. Once it has a definition for a term, every time that term shows up in company communications, it is hyperlinked. If you click on the link, you get a Wikipedia-like topic box that gives you the definition.

First Time AI Affects Management

Modest goal, but you can imagine the impact it will have on comprehension amongst employees. Everyone has a hard time remembering what all the alphabet soup stands for, and most everyone forgets the definition of some arcane term now and then, especially if they don’t use it often. Project Cortex will serve as the company’s collective memory, enabling everyone to have a clearer understanding of what they are reading — and what they are supposed to do with it.

You can also imagine the impact it will have on managers, who may end up needing to answer far fewer questions, freeing them from a rather tedious type of interaction while, at the same time, helping employees become capable of higher-level conversations.

Microsoft, of course, also understands the importance of security, and they’ve made sure that definitions are only given to people who have permission to know them. Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office 365, told the Wall Street Journal that “Every single thing has security permissions around it.” Obviously, that will vastly accelerate adoption and acceptance.

On Its Own

But what’s really interesting is the way that Project Cortex is going to achieve the goal of finding definitions for everything.

Usually, when artificial intelligence tackles a problem, it has to be “trained.” When DeepMind built the world’s best Go player, for example, the machine played billions of games of Go against itself to learn how to play better than any human can. Often, when artificial intelligence is applied to less well-defined problem, humans have to intervene to prevent it from wasting time and effort on dead-ends. The humans sort of funnel the computer’s work into areas that will produce results, because the computer has no concept of reality and so it can’t do this on its own.

Project Cortex, however, will not require training — especially not for companies that have a lot of data for it to analyze. In fact, its usefulness will depend on the quality and quantity of the text data that it will analyze. The more, the merrier.

In situations like that, Microsoft thinks that it can find the definition of important terms by itself, right out of the box. That is an ambitious goal, and if they succeed, they will have accomplished something very significant.

Speculation about the Future

This is the part that’s significant for ResultsBI users and for entrepreneurs and managers in general.

If Microsoft does all of this in 365, is it a stretch to guess that, in the not-too-distant future, they will do something similar with PowerBI?

My guess is that PowerBI is a logical next step. One of the main reasons I think this is that PowerBI is full of a lot of great data for the machine to analyze.

And I think that ResultsBI users will have a significant advantage because not only will they have all that PowerBI data, they will also have a great deal of text, in the form of meetings notes, Tasks, and Connect threads, associated with that data.

We can also further speculate that the type of insights artificial intelligence will be able to give us, using both PowerBI and ResultsBI data, will enable it to become a “management consultant” working on your “staff.”

But that will only happen if you have enough data for it to analyze. Start collecting it today, so you can be one of the first to take full advantage of artificial intelligence when it arrives.