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Microsoft Copilot AI agents are coming for your office job

OPINION: Microsoft has announced new developer tools that’ll enable automation of office productivity tasks. While it might free up time for more rewarding work, it could also replace people’s jobs entirely.

The AI agents will take a more proactive approach to handling complex tasks imperative the day-to-day operations of business. For example, instead of waiting for the user to ask Copilot to do something specific, the AI agent can perform tasks like data entry and email inbox monitoring of its own volition.

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In the Build 2024 blog post announcing the tools Microsoft says businesses can built copilots that “proactively respond to data and events, tailored to specific tasks and functions.”

It goes on: “Copilots built with this new category of capabilities can now independently manage complex, long-running business processes by leveraging memory and knowledge for context, reason over actions and inputs, learn based on user feedback and ask for help when they encounter situations that they don’t know how to handle. Users can now put Copilot to work for them – from IT device procurement to customer concierge for sales and service.”

Microsoft will undoubtedly pitch this as a way to save office workers time and enable them to dedicate their energies to less tedious matters.

It uses an example of how a Copilot agent could help with an employee onboarding: “Imagine you’re a new hire. A proactive copilot greets you, reasoning over HR data and answers your questions, introduces you to your buddy, gives you the training and deadlines, helps you with the forms and sets up your first week of meetings. Now, HR and the employees can work on their regular tasks, without the hassle of administration.”

However, there’ll be some sense among AI sceptics that everything Microsoft is describing will only help businesses streamline their operations and reduce the number of employees they’ll need as a result.

I suppose it could perhaps be likened to the way advanced robotics and machinery as well as outsourcing abroad, transformed Britain from a manufacturing country that worked on production lines to one that predominantly worked in offices operating PCs running on Microsoft’s software.

Ironically, that shift coincided with Microsoft’s rise into the computing behemoth that still enjoys a near-monopoly in offices today.

One might worry, this is how the eradication of something like data entry jobs starts. Countless families around the world rely on these jobs. However, if the tasks could be accounted for by a few lines of code that run automatically, why would a nimble business keep that employee around?

Well, at least after it had helped to train the Copilot to get by when it “encounters situations that they don’t know how to handle.”

Microsoft says most of these tasks are accounting for things that nobody really wants to do. However, it’s clear some people would rather have a job that pays them to perform those tasks.

On the plus side, I’m actually fine with it replacing the aforementioned HR employees. At least with an AI taking on the role of corportate stooge, you won’t have to put up with a human pretending they’re representing your best interests, rather than simply protecting the company at all times.

I, for one, welcome our human relations AI overlords.

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