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A screenshot showing what AI smarts look like built into Cortana. Photo: Microsoft

Nifty new capabilities in Office to be announced later today are the most tangible fruits of a larger move at Microsoft to infuse artificial intelligence into everything it does.

Why it matters: As Windows and Office markets have both matured, Microsoft is looking for its next big thing, and betting big on AI.

At its Ignite conference in Orlando, Microsoft will unveil new Office features that, among other new capabilities:

  • Allow users to import handwritten data tables into Excel
  • Spruce up their dull PowerPoint slides automatically
  • Blur out their messy rooms during video chats in Teams

Beyond using AI in its own products, Microsoft is pitching itself as the easiest way for average businesses to get started with the technology.

  • "Most still don’t know how do they get in," Microsoft's Letty Cherry told Axios.

For businesses that are large enough to have technical staff but not big enough to have their own AI experts, Microsoft has an option called "cognitive services" allowing such businesses to make use of speech and gesture recognition.Acquisitions: Microsoft has made a number of recent deals to boost its AI capabilities. Since May, it has acquired:

  • Conversational AI startup Semantic Machines, which helps bots sound more human (May)
  • Bonsai, which aims to reduce barriers to machine learning (July)
  • Lobe, which makes tools to help companies embrace AI without having to write code (September)

The company is also using AI to power several new philanthropic efforts under the umbrella label AI for Good. The programs are a mix of technology commitments, grants and other assistance:

  • AI for Earth, a $50 million, 5-year program announced in July 2018.
  • AI for Accessibility, a $25 million, 5-year effort announced in May.
  • AI for Humanitarian Action — a new $40-million, five-year program to use AI in areas including disaster recovery, protecting children, refugees, and displaced people and other human rights efforts.

What they're saying: Injecting AI into Office could give the productivity suite a new edge against rivals like Google Apps, says Lopez Research principal analyst Maribel Lopez. "The real battle in the enterprise AI space will be between Google and Microsoft," Lopez told Axios. "Google's obviously trying hard to break in with Chrome, Android and Suite but its been a slow slog to date. If Google can get companies placing more AI workloads in the cloud, they may be able to minimize the gap."

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.