When it comes to AI, Microsoft is going for it. It’s already built an AI assistant into its search engine and web browser, and has announced plans to do so for Microsoft Office. Now it’s going the whole hog in Windows 11, with an integrated AI assistant called Windows Copilot. Find out more about how Windows will get the AI treatment here.
Doesn’t Windows 11 already have AI built in?
Sort of. Earlier this year, Microsoft started experimenting with putting Bing AI in the search bar that appears in the Windows 11 taskbar. That was little more than a shortcut to the Bing chat assistant in the Edge web browser, though.
Windows Copilot is taking things to the next level, building an integrated AI assistant into the operating system itself, which will be able to control Windows settings and installed apps, not only Microsoft Edge.
What will Windows 11 Copilot do?
Judging by the video that Microsoft has released, Windows 11 Copilot will be able to perform a wide variety of tasks.
Perhaps the most impressive feature is its ability to interact with third-party apps. In the video, we see the user asking the AI assistant for some “great music to work to” and Copilot responding with a list of Spotify playlists to choose from.
Likewise, when the user asks how they can create a logo for their business, Copilot suggests Adobe Express. When the logo is created in the Adobe app, it’s pasted back into the AI assistant’s window, from where the user asks for it be sent to a particular group in Microsoft Teams, which the AI handles automatically.
The demonstration also shows someone dragging a PDF document into the Windows Copilot panel and being presented with options to explain, rewrite or summarise the document.
In other words, this is much more more than a chatbot. This is a personal assistant that can perform tasks in Windows apps on your behalf. Think of it as Clippy on steroids.
What other features will Windows 11 Copilot offer?
CoPilot can be used to change Windows settings – so, for example, you can ask the AI assistant to snap windows into a grid on your screen, or ask it to switch to focus mode when you’ve got work to get on with.
Microsoft is also going to adopt the same plugins model used by ChatGPT Pro (it’s based on the same GPT-4 AI engine as ChatGPT). This again boosts the feature set. With ChatGPT Pro, for example, you can ask the AI to book a restaurant for dinner in Fulham tonight, and the AI will scurry off and activate the OpenTable plugin, come back with suggested restaurants, and book the table for you (granted, it hasn’t worked perfectly in my tests).
Other third-party plugins available for ChatGPT Pro include Wolfram Alpha, Expedia and Zapier, among many more.
I explain in a different article how businesses can take advantage of GPT-4.
How do you activate Windows Copilot?
Microsoft’s demo shows it appearing on the taskbar, as an icon immediately to the right of the search bar.
When the user clicks on the Windows Copilot icon, a pane opens on the right-hand side of the screen, in the same spot the Notifications pane in Windows 11 occupies today when you click on the clock.
Microsoft will presumably create a keyboard shortcut for Windows Copilot at some point, too.
What are the risks of Windows Copilot?
The now well-known risk is so-called hallucinations – the AI making stuff up. It’s one thing for the AI to write a fictional match report when you ask it for an update on last night’s Man Utd game, it’s quite another for the AI to dribble out misinformation when it’s helping you create business documents or blog posts. That’s something businesses will quickly need to create safeguards and policies for, if they don’t already have them.
The other question is what happens to your data? If sensitive business information is being fed into the AI – you ask it to summarise a passage in the company’s embargoed annual report, for example – what happens to that data? Is it being stored on third-party servers? Is it being used to train future iterations of the AI? Is there a risk of this data leaking? Microsoft will need to provide clear answers on all of the above before companies can feel comfortable activating such a feature.
When will Windows Copilot be available?
Microsoft plans to start testing the feature with Windows Insiders (beta testers for forthcoming versions of Windows) in June.
If all goes well, it seems highly likely it will become a part of Windows 11 as part of the 23H2 update that should arrive in the autumn.
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