Powerapps MicrosoftSource: Microsoft

What you need to know

  • A new feature is on the way to Microsofts PowerApps software that turns natural language into code.
  • The feature works with Microsoft Power Fx, a programming language derived from Excel formulas.
  • The feature will be available within PowerApps in preview in June.

Microsoft's continued investment in AI is starting to yield fruit. A new assistive feature within Microsoft's PowerApps software is on the way to turn natural language into functional code. The new feature only works with Microsoft Power Fx, but it allows people to create functions without having to learn high-level coding. The Verge spoke with CVP of Microsoft's Low Code Application Platform, Charles Lamanna, about the tech.

Microsoft exclusively licensed OpenAI's GPT-3 language model back in September 2020. Now, eight months later, Microsoft has showcased the first use case for the program in the commercial space.

Microsoft Power Fx is a programming language derived from Microsoft Excel formulas. It doesn't have the power of flexibility of languages such as JavaScript or Python, but it also is easier to use. Microsoft Power Fx pairs well with the new feature for Power Apps because the AI technology can work within the confines of the language.

"It's data-binding, single-line expressions; there's no concept of build and compile. What you write just computes instantly," explains Lamanna.

Lamanna also explains the need for using natural language in coding:

There's massive demand for digital solutions but not enough coders out there. There's a million-developer shortfall in the US alone. So instead of making the world learn how to code, why don't we make development environments speak the language of a normal human?

PowerApps allows people to make some web and mobile apps with little or no code, but as things become more complex, some coding is needed. To make the process easier, people can create a new query with natural language instead of code.

The Verge shares a technical example:

So for example, instead of a user searching the database with a query first(Sort(Search('BC Orders', "Super_Fizzy", "aib_productname"), 'Purchase Date', Descending), 10)," they can just write "Show 10 orders that have Super Fizzy in the product name and sort by purchase date with newest on the top.

The AI tech can understand the natural code and take care of the technical part for you. Power Apps will also require people to confirm Power Fx formulas that are created with the AI feature.

While the feature has limitations, it shows the potential of using AI to improve coding.