The Citizen Developer

Building Apps Through Conversation

Just when you were getting used to the idea of dragging icons around a screen to build apps, along comes Microsoft PowerApps Copilot saying, "Talk to me. Tell me what you need the app to do…"

Just when you were getting used to the idea of dragging icons around a screen to build apps, along comes Microsoft PowerApps Copilot saying, "Talk to me. Tell me what you need the app to do…" Really.

Microsoft says it, I believe It
The Microsoft Learn platform added a new post on October 18, 2023, along with the announcement of general availability of Copilot in PowerApps. For those who are just getting comfortable with the idea of being considered "citizen developers," Microsoft is sort of swooping in with its own nomenclature. Redmond is now referring to you, citizens, as "app makers."

Microsoft also says that 126,000 organizations have already started using Copilot in Power Apps, and they’ve made some significant observations about the impact, which are chronicled in the Microsoft PowerApps Blog, including:

  • Makers who start building apps with Copilot are 64% more likely to be successful than those that don’t. That’s because Copilot helps you avoid common pitfalls and errors and guides you towards best practices and optimal solutions.
  • Makers who are building apps using Copilots are 65% more satisfied in their overall experience than makers that don’t. That’s because Copilot helps you unleash your creativity and innovation and empowers you to build apps that meet your unique needs and goals.
  • In addition to being more successful and more satisfied,  Copilot helps makers build apps over data from Excel 80% faster than before. That’s because Copilot can automatically detect your data, suggest app ideas for you, and help you customize and publish your app in minutes.

But the quote that grabbed my attention is the opening of an article on the Microsoft Learn site for Power Apps,which states: "Create Power Apps with the help of AI. Describe the app that you want to build, and AI will design it for you."

Uh-huh. Let that sink in for a minute.

You’re going to put your mouse and keyboard aside now. Not only will you not be typing out code, you won’t be dragging and dropping icons either. Instead, you’ll just be sitting there having a nice conversation with Copilot, at the end of which it—not you—will design and produce the app.

Copilot is directly available from the PowerApps home screen. As you build your app, you’ll enjoy extensive in-app guidance talking back to you using natural language processing (NLP).

When you, the "app maker," ask to build an app you’ll see a dialogue that enthusiastically says, "Let’s build an app! What should it do?"

When you describe the industry for which you're building an app, Copilot immediately starts building a Dataverse table structured with typical fields used by that industry. You’ll continue the conversation to add features and functionality to your app, and make adjustments, changes, and other edits as needed. You can easily add chatbots to gather information and move users through workflows. No keyboard. No mouse.

Who’s Talking Now?
But it’s not just you who will be talking with Copilot. "Your apps will have copilot-powered experiences built in from the first screen," Microsoft says, "so your users can discover insights in conversation instead of mouse-clicks."

Yes, your users will be talking to Copilot too. Like Wendy in the TV show “Billions,” everybody will be talking to Copilot. And Copilot will be talking right back.

All of this is powered by Azure OpenAI Service. At general availability introduction, it’s available only in the United States and Switzerland.

Changing Our Relationship with Data
I have a question for you, Citizen Developers: When you first started playing with your first low-code/no-code drag-and-drop platform, how long did you think it would be before you were simply telling the computer what you need and letting it create it?

This should provide some insight into just how quickly things are developing in the land of artificial intelligence. The technology underlying your ability to converse with Copilot is powered by the aforementioned Azure OpenAI Service which is built on Generative Pre-Trained (GPT) technology. It consists of large language models (LLM) which have been trained on a massive amount of data, enabling them to approximate human text generation. If this is all losing you somewhat, you are not alone.

Generative AI is generating more new nomenclature than almost anything since the early arrival of virtualization technology. If it’s all working correctly, you shouldn’t have to worry about any of the tech specs. That’s a big if.

Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson!!!
If you’ve heard anything about Generative AI, ChatGPT, and related technologies, you’ve probably heard the awful potential negatives. There are reports that AI can have "hallucinations," wherein an LLM perceives patterns or objects that are nonexistent or imperceptible to human observers. This has been proven to be true. ]

There are also reports that AI incorporates prejudicial information and even hate speech into its large language models, and they show up in the results. Yeah. That’s true too.

Then there’s the Terminator terror, the day that "Skynet becomes aware." The warning is to never task the AI with protecting planet Earth. Why? Because it will soon deduce that the greatest threat to the survival of the planet is the human race. We poison the planet in a million ways. Realizing this, the AI will set about exterminating us.

Not sure that’s true—yet—but there are some formidable believers who are definitely concerned that this will happen someday. They include bright guys like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, the late Stephen Hawkings, and cognitive psychologist and computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton, widely considered the Godfather of AI who recently left Google.

If such well-informed geniuses are AI-fearful, I certainly am too.

About the Author

Technologist, creator of compelling content, and senior "resultant" Howard M. Cohen has been in the information technology industry for more than four decades. He has held senior executive positions in many of the top channel partner organizations and he currently writes for and about IT and the IT channel.