Microsoft has kicked off its annual Build 2023 software developer’s conference with a plan to encourage developers to support a common platform for search and artificial intelligence (AI).
The two themes the software giant has focused on is the concept of plugins to integrate AI with third-party services and copilots, which aim to augment common tasks.
Microsoft regards the idea of a copilot as both a new approach to developing AI-powered software and a shift in the way that software is built. It has now unveiled Copilot in Power BI and Copilot in Power Pages in preview. Copilot in Microsoft Fabric is expected to be available on preview soon, while Windows Copilot is due to be available in preview in June.
To help developers build their own copilots in next-generation AI applications, Microsoft has introduced a plugins platform, which enables developers to support other software and services.
Microsoft said the shared plugin platform offers a single platform to enable developers to build plugins that work both in a consumer-context and within business. Developers can use these plugins in their own AI-powered applications using application programming interfaces (APIs) from other software and services to retrieve real-time information, incorporate company and other business data, perform new types of computations and safely take action on the user’s behalf.
Microsoft said plugins are the connection between copilots and the rest of the digital world. “You may look at Bing Chat and think this is some super magical complicated thing, but Microsoft is giving developers everything they need to get started to go build a copilot of their own,” Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s chief technology officer, said. “I think over the coming years this will become an expectation for how all software works.”
The platform supports ChatGPT, Bing, Dynamics 365 Copilot (in preview) and Microsoft 365 Copilot, which is currently in preview. Applications built on Azure OpenAI, will support third-party plugins that are interoperable with the standard used on the Microsoft platform. According to Microsoft, this gives developers the ability to build user experiences that enable people to interact with the apps they build using natural language.
As part of this shared plugin platform, Microsoft internet search engine Bing is extending the plugins it can support. For instance, plugins for OpenTable and Wolfram Alpha have been announced. Microsoft said it also plans to have plugins for Expedia, Instacart, Kayak, Klarna, Redfin and Zillow, among many others, in the Bing ecosystem.
James Sanders, cloud and infrastructure principal analyst at CCS Insight, said: “Artificial intelligence is the throughline of Microsoft Build, with further Copilot functionality added across Microsoft’s product portfolio.
“While Microsoft benefits today from first-mover advantage for integrating AI features, the practical value is in business data already residing in Microsoft Graph – data from Office, OneDrive, Windows, and Dynamics 365 – which informs the inferences and recommendations made by Copilot data for users in that organisation.”