Microsoft today added new AI-powered data types to Excel (currently in beta) to give customers a way to access extensive information about companies and places. Stocks and Geography data types allow users to pull information from the Microsoft Knowledge Graph by simply referencing the entities by name.
For example, customers could write out a list of cities, press the Geography button, and see those names associated with all of the data Microsoft has available on the location inside Excel, without changing apps.
The new data types provide customers with more information than just the names of stocks and places — it’s also possible to query other information about those entities inside Excel in order to build more detailed reports. For example, users can create a spreadsheet that lays out a list of places, complete with their area, population, and median income, all without leaving the program.
Microsoft’s new features help it compete against Google, which is using its own AI expertise to make G Suite more appealing.
AI helps Excel parse users’ input and reduce ambiguity in messy inputs. For example, including “Portland” in a list of cities will lead the software to either reference the city in Maine or the one in Oregon, depending on the context of its neighbors. If Excel is unsure, it’ll ask a user to choose from a list of places.
To access all the information about a particular entity that’s stored in the Microsoft Knowledge Graph, users type a cell number, add a dot, and then choose from a drop-down list of attributes, similar to the way they’d select a function. Customers can also invoke those attributes for filters, charts, and pivot tables.
Users can also use a refresh function to pull the latest data, which is particularly important for data about stocks that can change frequently.
Microsoft will start rolling the feature out to members of the Office Insider Program, with general availability coming later.