Artificial Intelligence (AI) is so deeply embedded in our lives today that we almost can’t imagine a day without it. AI is literally everywhere and accessing it is as easy as tapping a button now. That’s exactly what Microsoft has done. They unveiled a significant update to their Windows keyboard, introducing a new “Copilot key” that will grant users quick access to the tech giant’s Copilot service.

In a move that surprised techies across the world, this marks the first alteration to the device in almost 3 decades. This shows Microsoft’s commitment to integrating AI into its products. Ahead of next week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on technology trade in Las Vegas, Microsoft announced this big change on January 4, 2024. The new Copilot key will appear on the right of the space bar and activate Microsoft’s recently released Copilot service.

Introduced in November, Copilot helps people perform tasks like summarizing documents, recommending music, researching, drafting text, creating images, turning ideas into songs, facilitating virtual meetings, and answering questions you might ask a search engine or AI chatbot. The new key will replace either the right control (CTRL) key or a menu key, depending on the keyboard layout.

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The Aim

In a blog post, Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President, Consumer Chief Marketing Officer, said “We believe it will empower people to participate in the AI transformation more easily. The new key will invoke the Copilot in Windows experience to make it seamless to engage Copilot in your day to day.” 

The announcement, made on Thursday, is part of Microsoft’s broader initiative to invest billions in AI technology. These cutting-edge AI-enabled machines are equipped with advanced chips capable of running large-language models and AI-powered applications directly on the device, rather than relying on cloud computing. Research firm Canalys predicts an acceleration in the adoption of AI-capable PCs from 2025 onwards.

When To Expect

Over the coming days leading up to and at CES, the Copilot key will be seen on many of the new Windows 11 PCs from Microsoft’s ecosystem partners. We can expect a wider release in late February through spring, including on upcoming Surface devices. The imminent new line of Dell XPS laptops is already featuring the new key. With time, the Copilot button will become an essential feature.

Microsoft has already incorporated its AI companion into Bing, Windows, and Office 365. For Windows users who don’t have Copilot enabled or those who live in countries where Copilot is not available, the new key will bring up Windows Search. Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC users can already do so by holding down the Windows key + C. “This [new button] will not only simplify people’s computing experience but also amplify it, making 2024 the year of the AI PC,” Mehdi wrote.

The Motivation

Microsoft “will be ushering in a significant shift toward a more personal and intelligent computing future where AI will be seamlessly woven into Windows from the system, to the silicon, to the hardware,” he added. Although the move marks the first keyboard addition for many years, the company did remove the Start button from its Windows 8 operating system in 2012.

Companies around the world have rapidly moved to capitalize on recent advances in artificial intelligence, particularly following the popularity of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Microsoft, which has invested heavily in and works closely with OpenAI, has been at the forefront of this change and swiftly integrated the technology throughout many of its products.

Microsoft Windows AI Copilot key new keyboard tool

The Future With Copilot

Copilot has proved to be popular with users, giving the company a boost in the AI arms race. Microsoft has invested heavily in ChatGPT‘s creator OpenAI, leveraging the company’s tech to power its own AI products. According to an analyst, “Microsoft has captured the zeitgeist” of generative AI with Copilot. Since purchasing GitHub, the company has also successfully driven AI across the developer community.

Microsoft’s move to codify its AI assistant, Copilot through hardware changes could prompt wider change in the industry. Its Windows operating system is by far the most widely used computer operating system in the world by a large margin. And through licensing agreements, it holds significant sway over other PC manufacturers. With the entire industry embracing AI, the demand for AI-enabled devices is bound to rise substantially.