And AI is everywhere within Windows 11 and its apps now. Copilot. File Explorer intelligently recommends files. Paint now has background removal and layers, and soon a “Cocreator” image generation tool, too. Windows’ Photos app is back with background blurring features. Snipping Tool will be able to extract text from your snips via OCR. Outlook will help you write emails. Image generation is coming to Word. Heck, we’re even calling out AI chips now: the Surface Laptop Studio 2 contains the Intel Gen3 Movidius 3700VC VPU AI Accelerator.
It’s here! The future is here! Or is it? Let’s take a deep breath and start taking a look at this new era of AI promises.
The dawn of the Windows PC’s AI era
Since last year, AI has been used for image generation, such as Stable Diffusion. That’s here, now with DALL-E powered Microsoft Image Creator. (It now uses DALL-E 3, a more powerful upgrade that eliminates the option to generate public figures like Donald Trump.) That means if you want to generate some AI art, you can do that quickly and easily, and you can do it in more places across Windows 11 and Office.
AI has also been used for text generation and summarizing large documents and pages. That’s here as well. Microsoft has offered this capability previously within Microsoft Edge Copilot (again, now just Copilot) and now has migrated to Microsoft 365 Copilot. Here, Microsoft wants to call this out, because it also wants to charge you or your company $20 per user per month to use it.
Today, Microsoft began promoting what it calls Microsoft 365 Chat, which is a new way of “querying” a document to learn more about it. That’s database jargon carried over to the business world — basically, there’s a need for businesses and users alike to extract information from a collection of data points. In reality, what that means is you’ll be able to “chat” with Microsoft 365 to learn what a document or spreadsheet doesn’t explicitly tell you: what sales region underperformed the others? Why? What can be done about it?
But we still are in the very early stages of it all. For one thing, Microsoft’s Copilot doesn’t look all that impressive right now, sizzle reel (embedded below) aside. Remember, Copilot wants to be two things: a front door to Bing Chat’s cloud-based AI engine, and a butler for performing tasks on your PC. If you want to Windows to write a poem about tacos, Copilot’s your tool. If you have no idea how to change your PC to dark mode and want Windows to do it for you, Copilot is there for you, too.
Well, theoretically. For one thing, Microsoft Copilot requires a cloud connection to work, at least as a replacement for Bing Chat. This is exactly the problem that Intel wants to solve: put local AI on your PC with its new Core Ultra (Meteor Lake) chips to eliminate the need for a persistent connection. (Poor AMD risks being overshadowed, but they have AI too with their Ryzen 7040 chip.)
But Microsoft’s latest Surface devices don’t use the Core Ultra; they use an older Intel chip instead. With Asus appearing at Intel’s Innovation to show off image generation that takes on the PC, it looks like Microsoft’s hardware rivals are, ironically, better positioned than Microsoft itself is.
The other problem? Copilot is very limited on what it can do on your PC. It appears (and we don’t know this for sure) that Microsoft will have to hard-code what Copilot can or can’t do on your PC, so you don’t have someone accidentally erasing their hard drive or replacing their system fonts with Sanskrit. It can also hook into apps and services, which can give Copilot a bit more punch. All this is going to mean that Copilot risks becoming the new Cortana: cool, fun to play with, but then overlooked.
These are the early days of AI. The hype is immense. But being able to clearly understand what the PC industry wants to do, and what it can do, will benefit you in the long run.