Microsoft latest A.I. tools will read your Outlook emails aloud

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Dan Baker/Digital Trends

At its Ignite conference this year, Microsoft is continuing its A.I. push. By further integrating artificial intelligence into its Microsoft 365 applications — including its Office suite products such as Outlook and Excel — the company wants to offload some of the heavy human lifting to its Cortana digital smart assistant to help you stay productive.

By bringing its A.I. smarts to Outlook on iOS, Microsoft is showing how you can truly go hands-free and eyes-free and still stay on top of your email. With the launch of a new Play My Emails feature, Outlook users on iPhone and iPad will be able to have Cortana read out emails using natural language technology. For commuters, this feature can save you time during your morning and evening commute, as Cortana will be able to read your email messages to you while you’re driving, a move that places Microsoft’s digital assistant in direct competition with music and audiobooks for your ear time.

“With a natural voice, intelligent readout, and language recognition, Cortana can read out your new emails and share changes to your day so you can catch up and act on emails even when your hands are busy with other things,” Microsoft said of the feature in a blog post. Cortana for iOS is rolling out today, and an Android launch is planned for Spring 2020. To make Cortana sound more natural and suite your style, Microsoft also announced a new masculine voice option for its digital assistant alongside the rollout of the Play My Emails feature.

Cortana is also getting a huge presence inside Excel. In the latest test build of Office for Insiders, you can now leverage Cortana to make sense of your data. Rather than plug in complex formulas or generate graphs, you can just ask Cortana questions about the information in the spreadsheet using natural language queries.

Keeping you on track

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If you’re the type of person to take on more than you can remember to tackle, those days are long gone. With deeper integration into Microsoft 365, Cortana will help you keep track of the commitments and promises you make via email throughout the day, and it will remind you of your obligations with a new Briefing email.

The Cortana-compiled Briefing email will include relevant meetings, documents, and tasks that you can check off as you accomplish them. ” Briefing email will be available in preview for tenants in the United States in a few weeks,” Microsoft said.

For office workers trying to find an amenable time to schedule a meeting, Scheduler will scan your schedules and suggest times and meeting rooms.

“With Scheduler, you can easily hand off meeting scheduling to Cortana,” Microsoft detailed in a blog post. “Simply include Cortana in your email to participants, and let Cortana know what you need in the body of the email using natural language – similar to the way someone might loop in their assistant. You can tell Cortana the duration, timing, and location of the meeting, or simply write “Find a time for us.” You can even ask Cortana to book a conference room or a call. And Cortana will respond to your recipients’ emails 24×7, even when you are busy.”

It’s not just all work

While Cortana-driven artificial intelligence technology can help make you more productive at work, it’s also about work-life balance. Microsoft’s MyAnalytics tool helps you feel less of a need to stay plugged into work while you’re away by automatically informing your collaborators when you’re out of the office, resolving meetings you’ll miss, and scheduling catch-up time with coworkers when you return.

“Our research shows habits like scheduling regular 1:1 time, limiting late night emails, and giving regular feedback sets top managers apart,” the company stated in its blog. “New leadership insights in MyAnalytics are designed to help managers build these habits and keep their teams engaged.” Additionally, if you’re working with colleagues from around the globe, MyAnalytics will also help schedule your email messages to be delivered when they’re in the office. This way, you won’t have to worry about interrupting a co-worker while they’re spending time with their families in the evening.

Artificial intelligence tools inside Outlook will help surface missed emails or items that will require your attention as soon as you get back to the office. The new MyAnalytics features are slated to arrive for Office 365 commercial customers in early 2020.

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