Microsoft bakes more AI into Office 365

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Microsoft bakes more AI into Office 365

Microsoft is simplifying Excel, demystifying corporate jargon and helping users avoid running late to meetings with the launch of new artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities in its Office 365 productivity suite.

The software vendor wants to help users avoid the "intimidating" challenge of extracting data from Excel with the preview of Insights, which automatically highlights patterns it detects.

Insights is powered by machine learning and helps users identify trends, outliers, and other useful visualisations. The preview will be opened up to Office insiders this month.

Word is getting a new feature, dubbed Acronyms, which helps users understand shorthand commonly used in their own workplaces.

Acronyms, which will roll out to Word Online for Office 365 commercial subscribers in 2018, leans on the Microsoft Graph to find and reveal the definitions of terms from previous emails and documents.

Microsoft is expanding existing functionality within Outlook that helps users detect trips and deliveries, triage email and schedule meetings.

"Today, we’re expanding this set of AI-powered tools by bringing Cortana to the Outlook mobile app to help users stay on top of their day," Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft's corporate vice president for the Office team, wrote in a company blog post.

"When it is time to leave for appointments, Outlook will now send a notification – with directions for both driving and public transit – taking into account current location, the event location, and real-time traffic information. Time to leave in Outlook is rolling out to iOS users this month in markets where Cortana is available."

Other new features include an AI-powered whiteboard app that can recognise freeform drawings and turn them into standard shapes, and an extension of capability within OneDrive and SharePoint to automatically recognise the content within images and  automatically extract searchable text.

Microsoft has been baking AI and machine learning capabilities, from document translation to intelligent threat detection, into Office 365, which now has more than 120 million commercial users.

The Office 365 announcements were part of a bevy of news out of a Microsoft AI event in San Francisco, where it also revealed a partnership with Reddit.

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