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Tuesday, February 6, 2024 - 9:23am

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest trends, and last month ITS began offering a new generative AI chat tool called Microsoft Copilot. Available to all University of Iowa faculty and staff, and to students starting in April, Copilot offers powerful AI capabilities with some security guardrails.

Whether you’re experienced with generative AI or just getting started, here are answers to some common questions about Copilot:

What can I do with it or why should I use it?

The possibilities of using Microsoft Copilot are endless. Here are a few examples:

  • Content creation and editing: You can ask Copilot to help you create or edit content, from blog posts to work emails. It can even help you adhere to specific style guides like AP, AMA, or Chicago.
  • Deep-dive research: Use Copilot as a supercharged search engine. You can ask follow-up questions to refine your search and delve deeper into topics.
  • Coding assistance: If you’re working on a tech project, you can ask Copilot to generate code snippets for you to test and refine.
  • Idea generation: Use Copilot as a brainstorming partner. You can even ask it to simulate different perspectives to help broaden your thinking.
  • Learning new topics: You can ask Copilot to provide information or explain concepts on a wide range of topics, making it a great tool for self-directed learning.

How do I get started?

UI employees and students can access Copilot directly or as part of the Microsoft Bing search engine. Sign in to Copilot with your HawkID and password before you begin to access the enterprise version with additional data protection. If you’ve logged in correctly, you’ll see the IOWA branding in the top left corner. Logging in with your UI credentials ensures your privacy and protects UI data and intellectual property.

Find detailed instructions on how to access Copilot, example prompts, and additional tips in this helpful support article.

If you have questions about Microsoft Copilot or need technical assistance, contact the ITS Help Desk.

Why should I use Copilot over ChatGPT?

With the rise and popularity of AI chatbots, how do you pick one? Here’s what makes Copilot different from other options like ChatGPT or Google Bard.

  • The key differentiator is that Microsoft Copilot is a more secure alternative to consumer-oriented generative AI services such as ChatGPT, Bard, and the non-enterprise version (where you don’t sign in with a HawkID) of Copilot. Currently, GPT-4 powers Microsoft Copilot.
  • The enterprise version of copilot does protect your identity when you sign in with your HawkID and password. Microsoft only uses your identity to determine if you are eligible to access the tool. Copilot cannot access your Microsoft 365 files.
  • Microsoft Copilot does not save your chat history. By comparison, ChatGPT and Google Bard do save your history. A saved chat history reduces your privacy, but it is convenient if you need to revisit queries. If you want to save your conversation with Copilot, you can export the conversation or copy and paste it into a document.
  • Microsoft cannot see your chats and does not use your chat data for training AI models. Typically, AI chatbots use your chat to return an answer and learn how to respond with better answers based upon the information you input. This can expose your data to other searches. Since Microsoft cannot see your chats, and your data is not used to train the model, it is more secure than Bard or ChatGPT, which do use your chats to train future models.
  • Helpfully, Microsoft Copilot includes references to make fact-checking a little easier. With Copilot — and not ChatGPT and Google Bard — you’ll find included in-text footnotes and links.

What’s the difference between Microsoft Copilot and Microsoft 365 Copilot?

Please do not confuse Microsoft Copilot with Copilot for Microsoft 365, which integrates with Microsoft 365 applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.). The key difference lies in the level of data access and protection. Microsoft 365 Copilot can access and utilize your organizational data within Microsoft 365, while Microsoft Copilot prioritizes data protection and does not access or utilize your organizational data. Microsoft 365 Copilot is a premium feature that is not available for University of Iowa users.

More Copilot resources

Using an AI tool is often a series of trial-and-error questions. Typically, the more specific the search, the stronger the results. Microsoft Copilot allows users to choose a conversation style (Creative, Balanced, or Precise) and provides sample questions to help users develop an effective style. We encourage you to give Copilot a try and find ways to weave it into your daily workflow. Soon, you may find that using Copilot is convenient and saves you time.

But keep in mind that Copilot isn’t always accurate or correct. You should always verify the answers to your questions and check for accuracy. The AI guidelines and use cases article is an additional resource to help you evaluate the opportunities and risks of using AI. 

As we continue to explore AI, generative AI in particular, we’re open to learning more about how you are using AI. Faculty and staff can email their AI experiences and suggestions to ai-feedback@uiowa.edu.

The Generative AI at the University of Iowa hub showcases helpful information on how to use AI securely, benefits and limitations in academics and research, selected AI tools available, guidelines and use cases, and more.

If you want to learn more about how to use AI tools, LinkedIn Learning, which ITS provides free to all UI students, faculty, and staff, offers short courses that can help. On-demand courses can introduce you to tools or help you dive deeper into prompt engineering to maximize your use of generative AI. Log in to LinkedIn Learning and search for “AI” to see all the courses available.