This artificial intelligence option offers data security

Microsoft's artificial intelligence (AI) tool, formerly Bing Chat Enterprise and newly renamed Microsoft Copilot, is available to all Iowa State faculty and staff. Unlike other AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard, Microsoft Copilot includes commercial data protection that complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and others. 

The AI task force:

Kris Baldwin, ISU Extension and Outreach

Mindi Balmer, university human resources

Barb Biederman, office of general counsel

Matt Carver, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Kristen Constant, information technology services

Kevin Houlette, operations and finance division

Angie Hunt, strategic relations and communications

Mike Lohrbach, information technology services

Matt Pistilli, student affairs division

Hridesh Rajan, computer science

James Reecy, office of the vice president for research

The tool is included in Iowa State's Microsoft license at no additional cost and became available in October. It's not currently available to students. To access it, log in to Microsoft Copilot and authenticate your ISU credentials. Once logged in, users see a confirmation that personal and company data are protected in the chat.

"The big difference with Microsoft Copilot is that it adds security for university data," said chief technology officer Mike Lohrbach. "It does not use any data entered by Iowa State employees to build the model, and none of the data entered resides in any Microsoft data center after the chat is closed."

Although ChatGPT offers an enterprise version, which ISU is inquiring about, Lohrbach said from a security standpoint, Microsoft Copilot, when authenticated with ISU credentials, is safer than the free version of ChatGPT.

Getting started

Lohrbach offered several best practices for all faculty or staff using Microsoft Copilot:

  • It operates best in Microsoft Edge, but will work, with limitations, in other internet browsers.
  • Log in to Microsoft Copilot. Do not use the free version, which does not provide the same security measures.
  • Don't load any data into the free AI tools you wouldn't want made available publicly, and think carefully even when using tools with enhanced security.
  • Always fact check the results and beware of hallucinations. AI tools can create results when they're not able to find answers.

Using an AI tool often is a series of trial-and-error questions. Typically, the more specific the search, the stronger the results. Microsoft Copilot allows users to choose a conversation style and provides sample questions to help users develop an effective style. 

"We are encouraging people to test it out," Lohrbach said. "If it is something that doesn't require university or personal data, try testing it with Microsoft Copilot, ChatGPT and Bard to see what kind of responses you get."

Task force studies AI's future at ISU

Lohrbach is part of a 11-person universitywide task force (see box) that's examining AI's impact at ISU and will provide recommendations for its use. The task force formed in July, and is challenged because AI is so prevalent that new issues arise almost daily. Lohrbach describes the work as balancing opportunities with risks to determine the outcome.

Instructors and AI

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has developed recommendations and resources for instructors using generative AI tools.

Members of the task force come from across campus because the impact of AI can be wide ranging depending on the task. Lohrbach said more safeguards are necessary when personal information is involved than when someone asks for help writing an outline.

"AI is everywhere, and everyone wants to know what they should be doing and what they shouldn't be doing," he said. "We have many different functions across campus, from teaching and learning to administrative to research, and no one person is able to provide all the information for every group."

The task force is considering an AI faculty fellow position for someone to dedicate more time to pursuing proper and safe use of AI on campus.

Share your experiences

As universities across the nation determine how best to use AI tools, Lohrbach said faculty and staff can help Iowa State make those decisions by sharing how they use it and when they avoid it.

"It will help us identify the risks associated with these tools, and what policies and guidelines need to be put in place," he said.

Faculty and staff can email their AI experiences and suggestions to