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Copilot will learn your OneDrive files without crushing your PC

Windows logo and Copilot logoImage: Microsoft

Microsoft has scheduled a powerful feature to launch within Copilot: Copilot for OneDrive, which will allow you to query and ask about files stored in the Microsoft cloud. It’s a powerful tool, if only because it takes a surprising amount of horsepower to reproduce on a local computer.

Microsoft has scheduled Copilot for OneDrive to roll out in May 2024, and will require a Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365 license — the $30 per-user per-month business upgrade, only available to enterprises and schools. The announcement, available on Microsoft’s Microsoft 365 feature roadmap, doesn’t say anything about whether this feature will be available for consumers who subscribe to Copilot Pro, the $20/user/month service.

So why is this an important announcement? Because it will ask Microsoft’s cloud servers to learn the contents of your files, which is actually incredibly hard.

AI consists of two basic functions: machine learning, and inferencing. Inferencing is what happens when you interact with AI: You’re asking it to navigate a map of interrelated words and concepts to construct an essay on the economics of medieval England, for example, or create a photo of a dog chasing a unicorn. It’s extremely resource-intensive, but an AI chatbot or LLM can be run on a local PC, as we showed you.

But creating those relationships, known as machine learning, is an entirely different process. In that same feature, I asked the LLM to “learn” a 113-page PDF of the U.S. Code governing the office of the president. It did, but the learning process for that single document took close to two hours — and that was on a 14th-gen Core HX laptop powered by a GeForce RTX 4090 GPU.

After that process was completed, though, I was able to ask it about specific obligations and responsibilities the president has, as if I was talking to a political scholar. I could have done the same thing for a will or a rental agreement.

One of the advantages of running an LLM on your PC, as chipmakers like AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm would have you do, is that learning your own private documents on your own PC preserves the privacy of those documents. Uploading them to the cloud theoretically allows them to be examined by that cloud provider, and perhaps by law enforcement as well. However, if learning the contents of a document takes that long, it might be worth it to let Microsoft take over — or that’s the idea, anyway.

Neowin spotted the listing on Microsoft’s roadmap, which doesn’t list any restrictions on the number of files that can be learned.

“Copilot in OneDrive, available on OneDrive for Web, will allow you to ask questions and get information from files in your OneDrive without having to open the files,” according to Microsoft’s roadmap. “It will also summarize one or multiple files. Copilot in OneDrive will work on the following file types: DOC, DOCX, FLUID, LOOP, PPT, PPTX, XLSX, PDF, ODT, ODP, RTF, ASPX, RTF, TXT, HTM, and HTML. Copilot in OneDrive requires a Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365 license.”

Of course, once Microsoft’s AI “knows” the contents of your company’s internal documents, you’ll be less likely to ever sever your ongoing subscription. It seems almost inevitable that Microsoft will apply that same logic to your own personal information at some point.

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

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