Microsoft to Charge More for AI Features in Office 365 Software, Make More Secure Version of Bing Search

Microsoft on Tuesday said it would charge at least 53 percent more to access new artificial intelligence features in its widely used office software, in a glimpse at the windfall it hopes to reap from the technology.

The company also said it would make a more secure version of its Bing search engine available immediately to businesses, aiming to address their data-protection concerns, grow their interest in AI and compete more with Google.

At its virtual Inspire conference, the company said customers would pay $30 (roughly Rs. 2,500) per user, per month for its AI copilot in Microsoft 365, which promises to draft emails in Outlook, pen documents in Word and make virtually all an employee’s data accessible via the prompt of a chatbot.

The voluntary upgrade is on top of publicly listed, monthly plans ranging from $12.50 (roughly Rs. 1,000) per user to $57 (roughly Rs. 4,700), meaning the copilot could triple costs for some Microsoft customers.

In an interview, Jared Spataro, its corporate vice president, said the tool would pay for itself through time savings and productivity gains. The copilot summarizes Teams calls, for instance.

“You don’t take notes in meetings anymore, don’t attend some meetings,” he said. “It just changes the way you work.”

Spataro declined to forecast revenue from copilot, which at least 600 enterprises have tested since its March unveiling. The AI program, potentially expensive to operate, is not yet generally available.

In the meantime, Microsoft is pointing businesses to Bing Chat Enterprise, a bot in its search engine that can generate content and make sense of the internet, included with subscriptions used by some 160 million workers.

Unlike the public Bing that millions of web surfers have accessed in recent months, the enterprise version will not allow any viewing or saving of user data to train underlying technology. An employee would have to log in with work credentials to gain the protections.

The rollout follows growing industry concern about staffers entering confidential information into public chatbots, which human reviewers could read or AI could reproduce with careful prompting.

Asked if Bing users were unprotected until now, Spataro said Microsoft had made its privacy policies clear and was eager to bring AI to consumers. The company also announced the ability to upload images and search-related content, like Google allows.

Its corporate push for Bing may aid efforts to wrest search advertising share from Google at $2 billion (roughly Rs. 16,400 crore) in revenue per percentage point gain. It may also draw customers to Microsoft 365 Copilot, an AI upgrade giving access to business data and compliance controls.

“It’s a very strategic move for us,” Spataro said.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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