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Is AI “co-pilot” a generic term or a brand name?

The term “co-pilot” for AI assistants seems to be ubiquitous in enterprise software these days. Like many things in the generative AI industry, the way the word is used is changing. Sometimes it’s in capital letters, sometimes it’s not. GitHub’s choice of Copilot as a brand name was the first major use, and Microsoft later named its separate flagship AI assistant Copilot. Then the term “co-pilot” quickly became generic. Typically, an AI co-pilot is a generative AI assistant, typically a large language model trained for a specific task.

For example, confusion over terminology may lead to some customers not knowing whether what they are getting is a Microsoft product. But Microsoft doesn’t appear to be seeking ownership of the word “copilot,” as many other companies are using it. The term co-pilot has its origins in aviation and means the right-hand man of a highly skilled professional.

Here’s what you need to know about artificial intelligence co-pilots.

What is Microsoft CoPilot?

Microsoft Copilot is the collective name for the various generative AI and chatbot products currently available in Microsoft productivity software. For business users, we provide guidance distinguishing the various iterations of Microsoft Copilot and new Copilot features and integrations.

Microsoft uses two structures for Copilot product names: “in” or “for”

In TechRepublic’s cheat sheet about Microsoft Copilot, note that Copilot for Security and Copilot for Finance, Sales, and Services may be purchased separately for specific uses or departments. This is an interesting case of Microsoft using its brand name in two ways at the same time (even after all the rebranding of Copilot): Copilot offers very similar but more industry-specific features than Copilot within Copilot. For example, Copilot in Word can help with any writing task, while Copilot for Security integrates with specific security products.

See: Copilot in Bing used to be called Bing Chat before Microsoft unified its brand name. (Technology Republic)

What is GitHub Copilot?

GitHub released the Copilot product in 2021 (at which time GitHub was acquired by Microsoft). GitHub Copilot generates code based on a developer’s existing code; it is intended to be an artificial intelligence version of pair programming. The original GitHub Copilot was built on OpenAI Codex, a variant of GPT-3 at the time. GitHub has come full circle with generative AI, adding a chatbot to its latest version, GitHub Copilot X.

Microsoft Copilot and GitHub Copilot

Microsoft Copilot and GitHub Copilot have different primary use cases. GitHub Copilot is designed specifically for coding, while Microsoft Copilot integrates with many different business software. GitHub Copilot reads code, not natural language, and is integrated into the code editor; Microsoft Copilot uses natural language and works with various Microsoft products. Microsoft Copilot, on the other hand, can be used to write code in certain situations, such as writing code on Power Pages when integrated with Visual Studio Code.

Microsoft Copilot Business starts at $30.00 per user per month with a Microsoft 365 Business Standard or Microsoft 365 Business Premium license.

GitHub Copilot starts at $10 per user per month.

What other products does Copilot have?

Salesforce is one of the non-Microsoft backers of Copilot as a brand name. Einstein Copilot, released in February 2024, is a data cloud, artificial intelligence and customer relationship management software-as-a-service offering for Salesforce.

Business process automation software company Appian calls its generative AI assistant Copilot. A sales prospecting software company calls itself Copilot AI, but it doesn’t sell generative AI bots, but rather offers predictive responses to LinkedIn conversations and activity.

Many more companies are using Copilot to demonstrate generative AI enhancements to their services.

See: There are several reasons why a business or personal user might want to disable the Microsoft Copilot feature that comes with Windows 11. (TechRepublic)

Can copilot be used as a general term?

Currently, “copilot” is a flexible term that applies to both generic and brand-specific AI chatbot products for specific business purposes. For example, Microsoft Copilot is the co-pilot. What a “co-pilot” refers to or how an AI chatbot is named may vary from organization to organization. Common usage of the term suggests that we are in the Wild West period of artificial intelligence, suggesting that professionals are still researching ways to use generative AI in business, and that generative AI is taking the form of custom chatbots.” Assistant” works on specific products and applications.

You may see the word “copilot” in lowercase, which refers to a generic version of an artificial intelligence assistant. The people who make the capitalized Copilot infrastructure also embrace a common version of the term: NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang used copilot as a common term at NVIDIA GTC, as did many companies at the conference.

Other companies seem to shy away from the terminology: IBM calls its Watsonx AI assistant Assistant, and Databricks calls its Databricks Assistant Assistant.

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