Microsoft Adds Copilot AI Button to New PC Keyboards

Microsoft Adds Copilot AI Button to New PC Keyboards

Microsoft added a dedicated button to its Windows keyboard that launches the tech company’s AI chatbot—its first major change to the standard personal computer keyboard since 1994.

Known as ‘Copilot key’, the ribbon-like feature will be available on new Windows 11 laptops and upcoming Surface devices starting in February, the company announced on Thursday.

Before that, the button will appear on some new machines from Microsoft’s “ecosystem partners,” like Lenovo, Dell, and HP, at the CES technology trade show, set to be held in Las Vegas next week.

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How does the Copilot key work?

Microsoft launched Copilot in November, an AI-driven service that helps people perform tasks like summarizing articles and virtual meetings. The service works across the company’s web and productivity apps, such as Office and Excel.

Copilot can even create a song from scratch, thanks to Microsoft’s deal with AI music outfit Suno. By pressing the Copilot key, users will activate Microsoft’s GPT4-powered AI assistant to do all of the things listed above, including reading emails or drafting responses.

The company invested $13 billion in ChatGPT-creator OpenAI and has been leveraging the startup’s technology in services like Bing. In a blog post, Microsoft’s executive vice president, Yusuf Mehdi, said that the keyboard redesign is a “transformative moment in Windows’ journey with AI.”

“We believe it [the button] will empower people to participate in the AI transformation more easily,” he wrote. “AI will be seamlessly woven into Windows, from the system to the silicon to the hardware.”

As seen in the video above, the Copilot key will sit on the right near the space bar, replacing the CTRL button or Fn modifier key on some computers, while on others it will replace the menu key. For laptops where Copilot is not enabled, hitting the key will launch Windows Search and not its AI.

Microsoft said this is the first time in 30 years that a new key has been added to the PC keyboard. The last time it happened was in 1994, when the U.S. software firm introduced the Windows/Start key (the button with the Microsoft logo on it).

New age of AI personal computers

Microsoft’s Copilot key is part of the Redmond, Washington-based firm’s ambitions for AI-enabled computers. The devices run on high-tech chips capable of operating large-language models and other AI-based apps directly on the machine instead of in the cloud.

Analysts at research firm Canalys told Reuters that they expect “the adoption of AI-capable PCs to speed up from 2025 onwards.” Microsoft has called 2024 the “year of the AI PC.”

Microsoft is not the only company with customised keys. In the 1980s, Apple came up with its “Command” key, which was used for keyboard shortcuts. Google has a search button on its Chromebooks, and it experimented with an AI-specific key to launch its voice assistant on its Pixelbook, now out of use.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.