Smart Spreadsheets? Features In Microsoft Excel That Use Artificial Intelligence

Original article was published by Sarah Mason on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Smart Spreadsheets? Features In Microsoft Excel That Use Artificial Intelligence

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

When considering analytics using Artificial Intelligence (AI), rarely do you think of Excel. Excel has a lot of features that have been rolled out in the past 2–3 years that are AI based data tools to increase ease, efficiency, and make real data analysis available to anyone with Microsoft Office, Excel.

Artificial Intelligence based features in Excel:

  • Ideas pane: suggestions based on insights for visuals and quantitative results
  • Integration of data: multiple types for using function involving correlation and combination for patterns. ex. geographic purchase or surveillance data
  • Insert data from picture: I didn’t know this one until recently. Have a JPEG or other picture file that contains a list or chart? Take a picture, automatic data entry
  • Dynamic arrays: multiple types of data in a single array with drop downs
  • Table changes: VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP, and MATCH work differently as of the 2018 release of Microsoft Office, which includes Excel, to accommodate volume of data to quickly work through a large spreadsheet for analysis
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): use of natural language processing for queries and integration

These features were rolled out in 2018 and 2019. The dates make these additions to Microsoft Office and Excel recent. What are the uses of these features? How do they make Excel better?

Benefits of Smart Sheets

Based on reviews and comparison between recent versions of functions in Excel and releases prior to 2018, using AI instead of formulas operating on lists. Combining large amounts of data with fast, iterative processing and intelligent algorithms, sheets in Excel become smart by using software to learn from patterns or features in the data to form a result in a organic and native process.

The application of patterns and features in data allow for simple selection of information based on user defined parameters. This is true for creating smart drop down menus that sort and combine data yielding visualization of data in sortable complex arrays.


The way the functions work is restrictive. VLOOKUP cannot use arguments that cause it to “look left” for data, otherwise accept a “JOIN LEFT” in database terms. There is an error rate for using algorithms to complete a task by association and correlation. When creating a dataset from a picture, this is the case. The information from the chart is translated using computer vision, AI, using association to recognize and map data from a picture of a visual to a table or sheet.

Why Roll Back?

As advances are made in creating algorithms to better utilize resources and meet growing demands for information consumption, more changes will be implemented into how software works to improve and add functions. If there are more benefits than considerations, why roll back ten years of releases to before integration of artificial intelligence in Excel? The spreadsheet can stay smart and continue as the most common software based analysis tool. In a future releases of software, the spreadsheet will likely become smarter with more suggestions and inference used to build an analysis to meet the users expectations.