back to article Microsoft expands AI features in Office, but are they any good? Mixed, according to our vulture

Microsoft made a number of Office 365 Microsoft 365 announcements yesterday, including touting an expanded set of AI capabilities in its core applications. The new AI features, pulled out alongside a name change for most plans from Office 365 to Microsoft 365, centre around Microsoft Editor, a service which the company claims …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've seen ai dungeon.

    It's not good. Really not good.

    A fun toy, but I'd not use it for business.... oh, oops.

  2. jonathan keith Silver badge

    Office365 SKUs

    All well and good for admins of the corporate moneybags lot with their swanky Pro Plus* subscriptions, but what about those of us having to make do on (and I use the term very relatively) cheap Business Premium or Business Essentials subs?

    * Pro Plus might have some more fully-featured admin tools, but bizarrely costs £2 a month more per user (+VAT) and doesn't include any of Microsoft's cloudy service goodness like SharePoint, Teams or even Exchange.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Office365 SKUs

      I don't think any of this is either well or good, and lacking access to it is a feature.

  3. Sebastian A

    I especially like how any user that actually reads the privacy statement is lead to believe the admin has explicitly chosen to lock them out of changing them, instead of the admin not having configured this setting.

    Decades of "not configured" meaning "user selectable" out the window.

  4. Squeensnex

    Not off to a great start...

    Is it just me, or does the quote "write polished prose, craft impressive emails, and posts on your favourite sites like LinkedIn, Gmail, Facebook, and more." seem to have an errant comma or three? Perhaps they mean "write polished prose to craft impressive emails and posts on your favourite sites like LinkedIn, Gmail, Facebook and more."

    1. Ian Easson

      Re: Not off to a great start...

      No, it has the commas just right. You're wrong.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: Not off to a great start...

        Dude... chill... It's just that US and UK English have different grammatical rules for comma-separated lists.

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Not off to a great start...

      I usually craft any FecesBook post that requires paragraphs in Word first.

      Its amazing how many users of it don't understand there's a (post) edit function, but then again the standard of literacy among 95% of the posters, leads me to believe that they couldn't find their asses in broad daylight, with both hands & a map*

      *Which they would probably use for toilet paper anyway..

    3. hitmouse

      Re: Not off to a great start...

      It would depend on your Word settings for Grammar & Refinements (or Grammar & Style) as it was previously known. There is a checkbox for Oxford commas which is possibly connected to your language default (EN-US, EN-UK etc)

      Many of the settings have been around since Word for Windows 1.0 nearly 30 years ago (when I started using it) - and labelled as Style rather than Grammar settings. Hasn't stopped endless opinion pieces on Microsoft's grammar rules.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No thanks MS

    Apache Open Office still works wonders for me ... long may it continue!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @AC - Re: No thanks MS

      And if it doesn't, you still have the option of moving to LibreOffice.

  6. DJV Silver badge

    "when you use Microsoft Editor, your content is sent to Microsoft's servers for analysis"

    NO, NO, NO! Not going there, EVER!

    LibreOffice for me.

    1. VTAMguy

      Re: "when you use Microsoft Editor, your content is sent to Microsoft's servers for analysis"

      Here here. I was about to make a post very similar to yours although mine was going to have more NOs in it. Having my content be sent to random corporations without my consent is just not ever going to be a happening thing for me. I don't want my editor to have any AI abilities. I don't want my editor to suggest anything at all to me, ever. I don't want my editor to do anything but accept my input and commands, and produce text files on the computer that I'm working on. I can take care of all the other stuff with my brain, which has a lot more to do with producing readable documents than the stuff Microsoft vomits up under the guise of being helpful. Maybe all that nonsense is helpful in maintaining employment for thousands of sub-par Redmond "programmers", but none of it helps me at all.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: "when you use Microsoft Editor, your content is sent to Microsoft's servers for analysis"

        "Hear, hear", not "here here".

        I don't want my editor to suggest anything at all to me, ever

        Even with the occasional use of the incorrect homophone, your prose is likely better off for it. I've studied automated proofing tools since Grammatik came out in the mid-1980s, and - much like style guides such as Strunk & White - I firmly believe they do more damage than good. And I've taught college writing (so I've also studied composition theory and rhetoric), so I've seen some bad prose.

        At best, these tools reduce personal style and dialectical and individual variation to a bleak, dispiriting, joyless mechanical sludge. Usually they also introduce infelicities incorrectly included in their models, such as false elevation.

        There is one royal road to good prose style: Read a lot, and write a lot.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ramming home points about gender bias? Saying entirely reasonable to send stuff to Microsoft's servers?

    Checks address bar. That's weird.

    1. NATTtrash Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Marketing dept. nodding off...

      The Editor checks your document not only for basic grammatical and spelling errors, but also for more subjective and complex issues such as inclusivity and gender bias, age bias, wordiness, use of clichés, complex wording, and vague or unnecessary adverbs.

      AC: Ramming home points about gender bias?

      Meh, MS marketing missed their opportunity of a lifetime there...

      It would have sold like hot cakes if they had branded it "pedantic mode"...

      But always welcoming a good laugh, very curious how their US style translates in my mother tongue where we have many different ways to say F* off...

      1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Marketing dept. nodding off...

        Interesting choice for a pedant, given the "F" word can be used as a verb, noun, adverb and has various possible tenses too.

        Beyond flagging it as an unwise word, if you do want it, I would love to see what rules it applies...

    2. big_D Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Yes, sending corporate information to Microsoft servers? No, not never.

      As an aside, I just gave it the Complete Bastard - a document I've been creating over the years with all BOFH episodes in it (1,651 pages or 647,195 words)... It is taking its own sweet time. I'm expecting smoke to start coming out of my laptop in a minute.

    3. Sebastian Brosig
      Coat

      that's gender biased, you should say "servers and serviettes"

  8. cb7 Bronze badge

    "Microsoft Editor, a service which the company claims will help you "write polished prose, craft impressive emails"...

    It's a shame MS is unable to develop polished impressive software, despite earning $125 billion in revenue last year.

    What's happened to me? I've become an MS basher.

  9. RunawayLoop

    More data slurping from a large corporation, surprise surprise!

    Does anyone know what port they use? Wish there was a simple firewall script that could block all this slurping

  10. Mike Shepherd
    Meh

    Illiterate

    If you're borderline illiterate, fancy tools can hide that only for a short time. Anyone who needs them should get a job more suited to their ability.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Illiterate

      The ability to mutter "Would you like fries with that!" being chief among the available jobs.

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Illiterate

      Strikes me that if you are borderline illiterate then you are the perfect candidate for a job in the MS Empire.

  11. Schultz Silver badge
    Go

    What would Orwell say?

    Checking for "wordiness, use of clichés, complex wording, and vague or unnecessary adverbs" sounds reasonably close to his six rules for writing. But sending all your writing to the somewhat big brother?

    I call it a doubleplusgood Orwellian innovation. (What would Clippy say?)

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: What would Orwell say?

      And that of innumerable other style guides. Few of them are worth reading, much less following.

      Richard Ohmann’s “Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language” is a classic corrective to the prose style guide movement.

      English, for all its faults, offers unparalleled riches to writers: its huge vocabulary and ability to incorporate foreign words and phrases without faltering; its vast array of synonyms; its grammatical flexibility; its store of idioms; its accommodation of poetic forms and tropes thanks to its wildly varied orthography and pronunciation; its huge range of dialects and variations. Attempts to deny most of those riches to writers are misbegotten schoolmarmism and should be resisted wholeheartedly. Robotic, cookie-cutter, machine-approved prose does no one any favors.

  12. TurbulentBicycle

    American Cultural Norms Bias Checker?

    Can't wait for this super helpful tool to start trying to align me to whatever issue has been politicised in the USA at that point.

  13. Timmy B Silver badge

    Does it detect irony?

    "inclusivity and gender bias, age bias, wordiness, use of clichés,"

    As checking for inclusivity and the rest are simply a cliche now!

  14. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Hello World ...... Are you getting the Message yet? Garbage In/Garbage Out?

    The cautious approach is to turn off the connected experiences, though it is unlikely that any confidential data is in danger of interception. ....... Tim Anderson 31 Mar 2020 at 19:25

    Oh please, Tim Anderson, you cannot be serious. Where the hell have you been all of your life? Cloud Nine?

    Golden Rules #001 ....... Any and all confidential data and metadata is in danger of interception for remote officious and unofficial second and third party exploitation and abuse.

    And that persistent awkward question always remains to be answered in such circumstances ....... Why such an Epic Present Fail?

    And that may be easily answered brutally truthfully with the realisation there be not enough advanced and advancing intelligence in-house for exhibition/presentation/information processing/preprocessing/reprocessing.

    Such is an abiding catastrophic systemic vulnerability perfectly ideal for relentless and ravenous exploitation by A.N.Others without such a deficit/learning difficulty/disability/disadvantage/obvious problem and that you can be sure is not ever squandered.

    And any and/or all of that can be absolutely terrifying too.

  15. Giovani Tapini Silver badge
    Mushroom

    May be the wrong way to test it...

    but sure as hell that is how it will be used.

    Send a document to anyone and it will be tested against the recipient's pet bias and you will no doubt get reamed. Already imagining companies asking if they can bias score their entire library of literature and documentation into a new low of computer controlled Orwellian new-speak.

    We only want creativity at interview time... then you will become robotised …

  16. Spanners Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    "US English" can be very different from English

    This sounds like an automated version of a fax conversation I had with a US supplier 25-30 years ago. He criticised everything from my spelling and grammar to my "bizarre date format".

    My date format was correct, rather than the backasswards one they use in the USA.

    My spelling was correct. I had not randomly substituted Z for S or removed the letter U from words like colour.

    My, Oxford educated, English teacher at school taught me not to use what people in the USA laughingly call the "Oxford comma".

    I had not phrased things in a manner that would have indicated I was about 6 and had, several times used words of more than 3 syllables.

    (I can't remember who the supplier was but I think they made UNIX back up software and were in a "flyover state".)

    That conversation was fun but having this discussion with a computer would be tiresome.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Spanners - Re: "US English" can be very different from English

      Barney: Hey Homer! You're late for English!

      Homer: Pff! English, who needs that? I'm never going to England! Come on. Let's go smoke.

  17. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Editing challenge

    "Maybe the challenge of taking someone's mangled, cliché-ridden, gender-biased prose and transforming it into something lucid, balanced and objective is too demanding for AI…"

    I had to review many documents written by junior engineers. Many needed a human rewrite before one could leave MS Word to tidy up the details.

  18. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Great if you want Beige English™

    It would be interesting to feed this with prose from writers with distinct styles like Hemingway and Henry James(*) and see just how boring the resulting "improved" version is. I suspect the result would be the literary equivalent of Goodness Gracious Me's "Going for an English" - I want it really bland.

    (*) Or for that matter, Barbara Cartland and EL James.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just wait for the day

    when Outlook will simply refuse to send your email because it does not meet the standards imposed by Microsoft AI.

  20. Tellymel

    Just wanted to ask an AI type question. If yoy could preserve state of mind after death, could you make it still develop opinions?

    Mine change every day, so just copying my brain would only give a snapshot.

    I guess I'm really asking, what is an opinion, and can a machine have one?

    Maybe it's just a random result based on incomplete ata available, to try and answer my own question.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Tellymel

      You're asking "once we invent a computer that can simulate a human, how will it work?" So the answer is probably "something something quantum something something uncertainty principle". I'll refrain from adding "blockchain" and other buzzwords of equal predictive value.

      But an opinion is mostly reasoning from uncertainty. "I don't actually know all the stats, but clearly your sports team is pants and mine is superior." A proper algorithm would define what makes a team "good" (marketing budget? beer endorsements?), then compare both teams on that metric. When we don't agree on what metric we're using or the actual data to measure it, but want to assert something anyway, that's an opinion.

      If we look at neural networks now, they need concrete input, and we tell them which results we think are right. But exactly what data and rules they used to get the "right" answer are usually unknown. "We excluded race from our data, so it can't be a factor." Except that postal code, level of education, given name, and who knows what else may have subtle to strong correlations, and from the aggregate of those, we could probably ask a neural network to guess race, household income, level of education, etc. with a much higher degree of accuracy than any one input factor. But instead we ask it to make a lending decision, and for all we know, one of the "hidden layers" is actually deriving race and using it in the decision. One could call that bias an opinion.

      Putting a neural network back into learning mode can change these biases, so perhaps that's "still develop[ing] opinions". But it's really just manifesting the biases inherent to its training data, so the question is whether you accept that humans are just doing the same thing when we form opinions.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: @Tellymel

        If we look at neural networks now, they need concrete input, and we tell them which results we think are right

        That is how some ANN-based systems work. It is certainly not how all of them work.

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