Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) can easily stake claim to the honours board for 2023. The sudden buzz around ChatGPT quickly brought generative AI into the lexicon of laypeople and technology companies like Microsoft, Google and Adobe scrambled to announce a slew of transformational capabilities in search as well as productivity and creative tools.
This buzz around the ingenuity of generative AI has also compelled knowledge workers to sit up and take notice and attempt to up their game significantly since “good enough” work might not float anymore and can be outsourced to AI. Several startups have cropped up to enable just that with a host of writing tools like Lex.page, Copy.ai, QuillBot, Jasper, Postwise.ai, Craft.do, et al or drawing tools like Picto, Google Autodraw, Hotpot.ai, Artbreeder, Stable Diffusion, et al.
But these are early days. Some of the “Copilot” announcements by Microsoft or the AI enhancements to Google Workspace are yet to roll out. That said, though, you can experience AI in everyday tasks at college or work even now. For, over the past few years, it has found its way into the apps and services we use every day. Several of the “smart” features are essentially powered by AI. And while we will see more AI integration soon in Microsoft 365 apps, there’s a bunch of nifty features you can start using at once.
Editor: A lot of my friends use Grammarly to avoid writing mistakes but aren’t familiar with the much more advanced Microsoft Editor built in with Word (and available as a browser extension).
Editor not only suggests grammar and spelling corrections but also helps refine writing and avoid common mistakes. It has a bunch of settings that can be enabled or disabled according to one’s preference, like writing inclusive content (chairperson instead of chairman), avoiding cliches and colloquial usage, or correcting sensitive geopolitical references.
Dictate & Transcribe: One of the departments where Windows and Word have improved dramatically is dictation. From bare-bones and instructional voice-to-text capability, it has evolved into a feature that allows you to dictate an entire email or document with significant accuracy. It’s unbelievable once you try it. I have written several email drafts like this while building LEGO sets with my child. Pro tip: A better mic improves speech recognition and accuracy.
Then there’s the transcribing feature—voice-to-text for recorded conversations—many friends in journalism and communications roles have come to love. It’s seamless and quite accurate.
Export to PowerPoint: This excellent feature for making slide presentations is found on Word, not PowerPoint.
Often, we need to convert Word documents like reports, white papers, pitches, etc. to slides. Instead of manual copy-pasting, save the Word document in OneDrive, open it in the browser and then use the option to Export it to PowerPoint presentation. The feature will use AI to automatically convert your document to a slide presentation, along with pictures, icons and other design elements.
Design Ideas: When working in PowerPoint, make sure the Design Ideas feature is turned on. It will keep giving you design ideas for each slide—updating suggestions as you add text, bullets or pictures.
If you type a lot of text or bullets, it will suggest visual elements for greater impact. If you add content on a slide randomly, it will give ideas for better structure and layout. You get the idea.
Live Subtitles: Subtitles allow so many of us to enjoy Korean dramas or Indian movies in languages we don’t understand. Why not use subtitles when you are presenting to a mixed audience?
PowerPoint offers Live Subtitles that are presented as you speak. You just have to select a language you would speak in and the one you want subtitles in, and voila! There’s flexibility too since this is a real-time feature (and hence requires internet connectivity). For example, if you turn up for a session and realise your audience is more comfortable in Hindi while you prepared to speak in English, just turn on subtitles on and you are good to go.
Presentation Coach: This is an important but mostly unknown feature that uses AI to analyse the way you present and offers you feedback. After all, presentation is not just about a well-crafted deck but also the presenter’s communication skills.
Rehearse your presentation (pro tip: keep the camera on, so that it can also analyse your facial expressions and body language). PowerPoint will give you an insightful dashboard about how you speak—the pitch and speed, etc., the filler words or repetitiveness that you can avoid, pronunciation errors, and the issues with your body language during presentation. Even the best presenters can embrace a few tips to become even better!
Flash Fill: This feature can automatically detect patterns in data and help you quickly add more information to your spreadsheet.
For example, if you want to separate the first name from a column that has first and last names together, Flash Fill can automate a lot of the work. Write the first name in a new column for the first row in your table and once Excel detects the pattern, Flash Fill can fill the rest of the cells in this column with only the first name. This is a simple example but once you start using the feature, you realise Excel can often recognise complex patterns as well.
Formula by Example: If you are not sure which formula would work for you, just type in the data and Excel can figure out the formula logic for you. Essentially, you put data for a couple of rows and Excel will develop a formula based on the example you shared.
Analyze Data: Everyone loves data but we also need to derive useful insights from it. Often, we don’t know what all we can get from it.
Use the Analyze Data option and Excel will automatically analyse the raw data, and, using AI, every column will be correlated with every other column. Excel will offer whatever it deems important or statistically significant. You will be surprised that even after you have generated the reports you need, you will come across more insights. Spend a minute and try this feature.
Forecasting: Need to whip up a forecast from your sales data or projection of daily views of your YouTube channel? Excel can study the data and offer it to you in a jiffy with the Forecast Sheet feature.
Microsoft isn’t the only one baking AI into its products. Google, too, has sprinkled AI across its productivity suite.
Smart Compose: This Gmail feature helps you draft emails from scratch and cuts back on repetitive writing while reducing the chance of spelling and grammatical errors.
Smart Reply: Available on the mobile app, Smart Reply helps you save time by suggesting quick responses to your Gmail messages.
Summaries: Google Docs automatically generates editable summaries that can help you quickly parse the information that matters.
The company has announced many more AI features to compete with Microsoft. These are currently in limited preview but once they are incorporated, you will be able to draft, reply, summarise and prioritise mail, brainstorm, proofread, write and rewrite in Docs, use auto-generated images, audio and video in Slides and analyse raw data to derive insights in Sheets.
Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant.
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