Microsoft is planning to make Copilot behave like a ‘normal’ app in Windows 11

Windows 11 is set for a major change to the Copilot interface, or at least this is something that’s being tried out in testing.

With Windows 11’s preview build 26080 (in both Canary and Dev channels), Microsoft is adding a choice to free Copilot from the shackles that bind the AI assistant to the right-hand side of the screen.

Normally, the Copilot panel appears on the right, and you can’t do anything about that (although Microsoft has been experimenting with the ability to resize it, and other bits and bobs besides).

With this change, you can now undock Copilot, so the AI is in a normal app window, which can be moved wherever you want on the desktop, and resized appropriately. In other words, you’re getting a lot more versatility regarding where you want Copilot to appear.

Also in this preview build, more users are getting Copilot’s new abilities to alter Windows 11 settings. That functionality was already introduced to Canary testers, but is now rolling out to more of those folks, and Windows Insiders in the Dev channel too.

The extra capabilities include getting the AI assistant to empty the Recycle Bin, or turn on Live Captions, or Voice Access (there are a fair few new options on the accessibility front, in fact).

Analysis: Under the hood tinkering, too

Not all testers in the mentioned channels will see the ability to fully free Copilot and let the AI roam the desktop for a while yet, mind. Microsoft says it’s just starting the rollout – and it’ll only be for those in the Canary channel initially. A broader rollout will follow, with Microsoft asking for feedback as it goes, and adjusting things based on what it hears from Windows 11 testers, no doubt.

There are also some ‘under-the-hood improvements’ coming for Copilot as well, as mentioned in the blog post, but mysteriously, Microsoft doesn’t say what. We can only guess that this might be performance related, as that seems the most obvious way that tinkering in the background could improve things with Copilot. (Perhaps it’s to do with ensuring the smooth movement of the undocked panel for the AI, even).

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ChatGPT could become a smart personal assistant helping with everything from work to vacation planning

Now that ChatGPT has had a go at composing poetry, writing emails, and coding apps, it's turning its attention to more complex tasks and real-world applications, according to a new report – essentially, being able to do a lot of your computing for you.

This comes from The Information (via Android Authority), which says that ChatGPT developer OpenAI is working on “agent software” that will act almost like a personal assistant. It would be able to carry out clicks and key presses as it works inside applications from web browsers to spreadsheets.

We've seen something similar with the Rabbit R1, although that device hasn't yet shipped. You teach an AI how to calculate a figure in a spreadsheet, or format a document, or edit an image, and then it can do the job for you in the future.

Another type of agent in development will take on online tasks, according to the sources speaking to The Information: These agents are going to be able to research topics for you on the web, or take care of hotel and flight bookings, for example. The idea is to create a “supersmart personal assistant” that anyone can use.

Our AI agent future?

The Google Gemini logo on a laptop screen that's on an orange background

Google is continuing work on its own AI (Image credit: Google)

As the report acknowledges, this will certainly raise one or two concerns about letting automated bots loose on people's personal computers: OpenAI is going to have to do a lot of work to reassure users that its AI agents are safe and secure.

While many of us will be used to deploying macros to automate tasks, or asking Google Assistant or Siri to do something for us, this is another level up. Your boss isn't likely to be too impressed if you blame a miscalculation in the next quarter's financial forecast on the AI agent you hired to do the job.

It also remains to be seen just how much automation people want when it comes to these tasks: Booking vacations involves a lot of decisions, from the position of your seats on an airplane to having breakfast included, which AI would have to make on your behalf.

There's no timescale on any of this, but it sounds like OpenAI is working hard to get its agents ready as soon as possible. Google just announced a major upgrade to its own AI tools, while Apple is planning to reveal its own take on generative AI at some point later this year, quite possibly with iOS 18.

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Microsoft is planning to make Copilot launch when Windows 11 starts – and it could spark the next user backlash

It looks like Microsoft is going to make Copilot, its new AI assistant, start up automatically on PCs with ‘wide screens’ running suitable versions of Windows 11. As it happens, most PC screens are wide, so it seems like Microsoft wants to get Copilot in front of as many users as possible. 

This potential development has been discovered in a Windows preview build that’s just been released in the Dev Channel of the Windows Insider Program. The Windows Insider program is Microsoft’s official community of professionals and Windows enthusiasts who can access previews of new Windows features and versions. Windows Copilot’s interface opening automatically when a PC boots up is being trialed as part of preview build 23616, and it’s worth pointing out that this feature is still in the testing stages and may not end up being included in a finalized Windows 11 update that’s rolled out to all users. 

The feature is already being called controversial, which I understand – I get very annoyed when apps and features are sneakily enabled to start up automatically when I turn on my laptop. Also, in a Microsoft Windows Blog post, it does emphasize that users can turn off this feature, which will probably be the case if it makes it into a final Windows update version. Even Windows Insiders who are in the Dev Channel may not see it at the moment, as the rollout of the preview build is ongoing.

Here’s what Microsoft has to say about this Copilot change: 

We are trying out opening Copilot automatically when Windows starts on widescreen devices with some Windows Insiders in the Dev Channel. This can be managed via Settings > Personalization > Copilot. Note that this is rolling out so not all Insiders in the Dev Channel will see this right away.

Screenshot of Windows Copilot in use

(Image credit: Microsoft)

A frosty reception so far

Microsoft didn’t specify which widescreens will qualify for this automatic feature – specifically what aspect ratios will be eligible. Windows Central asks if “widescreen” means common 16:9 and 16:10 screens, or ultrawide monitors with 21:9 ratios.

So far, this is being received as unnecessary and possibly annoying, especially as Copilot currently is pretty limited in what it’s able to do. Windows Central speculates that this update could be laying the groundwork for a more substantial Copilot update, suspected to be in development for the next iteration of Windows (unofficially known as “Windows 12”). 

When Microsoft presented its vision for Copilot, it was presented as an AI assistant that would work across a multitude of apps and could enhance users’ productivity. When it becomes something that’s more familiar (and popular) like Microsoft hopes, maybe there’s a case for Copilot opening up as soon as your PC turns on. 

At present, Copilot isn’t there yet – and this move will probably just end up rubbing users the wrong way, especially if it ends up slowing down the time it takes for their PCs to load Windows 11. 


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Here’s how Apple is planning to take on ChatGPT

Apple may be lagging behind when it comes to generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and Google Bard, but it seems determined to catch up as soon as possible – and we just got a better idea of exactly how it's going to do that.

According to The New York Times, Apple is hoping to strike a deal with news publishers, to get access to their archives of content. AI models developed by Apple could then be trained on the vast amounts of written material in those archives.

The report says that “multi-year deals” worth “at least $ 50 million” are on the table, although it sounds as though none of the negotiations have reached a conclusion as of yet. Apple, as you would expect, has refused to comment.

As per the NYT, the heavyweight publishers involved in the talks include Condé Nast (responsible for outlets such as Vogue and The New Yorker), IAC (which runs People, The Daily Beast and Better Homes and Gardens), and NBC News.

Copy rights and wrongs

These deal rumors highlight a core part of how Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT's GPT-4 and Bard's Gemini work. They analyze huge amounts of text to learn to be able to produce convincing sentences of their own.

AI companies have been rather circumspect about where they've got the data that their models are trained on, but a vast web scraping operation is no doubt involved somewhere. In other words, if you've written something that's on the internet, it's probably been used to help train an AI.

The likes of OpenAI have promised to defend businesses who use AI models against copyright claims – a sure sign that these developers of artificial intelligence engines know that they're not on the firmest of ground when it comes to intellectual property issues.

To Apple's credit, it seems the company is attempting to reimburse writers and publishers for use of their articles, rather than just taking first and asking permission later. Expect to hear more from Apple on AI during the course of 2024.

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Meta is planning on introducing dozens of chatbot personas – including a Futurama favourite

Meta is gearing up to announce a generative artificial intelligence chatbot (internally dubbed as ‘Gen AI Personas’) that is aimed at enticing younger users to the world of AI chatbots. The new chatbot is expected to launch during Meta’s Connect event on September 27, and will introduce some familiar but… dated ‘personas’. 

The Verge notes that the chatbots will come with different personas that will promote more humanlike, engaging conversations to appeal to younger users.  One of the ‘sassy’ robot personas is inspired by Bender from Futurama and Alvin the Alien.  

Meta is planning to add “dozens” of familiar faces to its chatbot roster and even plans on creating a tool that will enable celebrities to make their own chatbots for their fans. This is good news, as I could finally talk to Beyonce.

How do you do, fellow kids? 

Meta is clearly putting a lot of time and effort into perfecting its chatbot game in the budding world of AI. We all remember Snapchat AI, which rose to fame for about a week and then quickly fizzled out into obscurity.  

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal reached out to former Snap and Instagram executive Meghana Dhar, who noted that chatbots don’t “scream Gen Z to me, but definitely, Gen Z is much more comfortable” with new technology. She also adds that Meta’s goal with the chatbots is likely to be to keep them engaged for longer so it has “increased opportunity to serve them ads.”

That would explain the rather random selection of ‘young people’ personas that Meta is going for. While Bender from Futurama is pretty recognizable, he’s not exactly a Gen Z icon. As someone from the demographic Meta seems to be targeting, it’s an extremely odd celebrity to slap onto your product, considering there’s a plethora of other (more relevant) personalities to choose from. 

The advantage Meta has in picking Gen Z as its target demographic is that Gen Z is very public about who they are super into right now. Meta could have picked literally anyone else, so hopefully the other personalities it has up its sleeve are a bit more … contemporary. 

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Microsoft could be planning to infuse Windows 11 with AI in every corner

Windows 11 could get AI enhancements for a bunch of its core apps in the future, according to a well-known source of leaks on all things Microsoft.

Zac Bowden (of Windows Central) informs us Microsoft is considering bolstering a ‘handful’ of the default apps in Windows 11 with AI functionality, and that includes Photos, Snipping Tool, Paint, and the Camera app.

The idea for Photos is that with images containing people or objects, the AI could identify these and give the user the ability to order them to be cut out and pasted to another image (or document, or wherever).

With Paint, the idea might be to usher in generative AI, meaning you could ask the app to create something specific (in the same vein that the Bing chatbot can knock up a composition of an image when given a brief).

For the Snipping Tool, the idea is to introduce OCR (optical character recognition) which could allow the tool to pick up on text in screenshots, facilitating the extraction of those words to the clipboard. The Camera app may also get a similar OCR trick to pull out text from photos.

Bowden underlines that these ideas are still at the experimental stage, and it’s not clear when they might come to Windows 11.

Analysis: Windows 11 or Windows AI?

The fact that these capabilities are experimental suggests that they may not be coming to Windows 11 in the near future (if they ever do – this is just speculation, after all). Who knows, though – Microsoft could have a lot of the groundwork in place (for example, the image creation functionality already in Bing AI), and it could happen faster than we think.

Certainly, these are going to be very handy features if they do arrive in Windows 11. They’ll cut corners in impressively swift ways – pulling text out of photos more or less instantly, for example, and cutting out a person from an image in the blink of an eye (a painstaking task when performed manually, of course).

So, what’s the catch? Well, apart from the rumored nature of these AI features, Bowden does observe that they may have hardware requirements in some cases. That could include the presence of a VPU or vision processing unit, for example (a capability set to be built into Intel’s next-gen Meteor Lake CPUs, which speeds up AI-based tasks).

All of the above-mentioned features sound realistic inclusions for Windows 11 at some point, beefing up the operating system’s core apps considerably, and fitting neatly alongside Windows Copilot in making the OS a more AI-driven experience all-round.

If this rumor makes one thing clearer, it’s Microsoft’s ambition to infuse Windows 11 with AI in every corner – or maybe next-gen Windows, which as Bowden observes, will incorporate AI more ‘significantly.’ Perhaps that’ll be Windows 12, as rumored, or maybe the next incarnation of the OS could called Windows AI, even?

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Microsoft ignores Bing fails by planning to let AI loose on Windows 11 desktops

Windows 11 looks set to enlist the help of AI to make the desktop look that little bit fancier – although the wisdom of forging down this path could be questioned.

This leak comes from Albacore, a well-known source of Microsoft spillage on Twitter (flagged up by Betanews), who spotted a ‘Depth effects’ toggle in the Personalization options (under Settings) in the latest Windows 11 preview build.

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As the screengrab in the above tweet shows, the new setting allows for the use of AI to “add depth effects to background images.” We can guess that this will add some 3D depth to any given background on the desktop, and the AI will suss out how to do this in the most effective way possible.

The slider is in the preview build, but isn’t functional and does nothing right now. That will presumably change in builds in the near future, given that it’s actually visible in the UI as of the latest preview.

Analysis: A taste of things to come?

Of course, AI is the big thing these days, in Windows and elsewhere. Microsoft recently kicked off a major project with the Bing chatbot, which was just brought to the taskbar in Windows 11 (except not really – we discuss what happened in-depth here).

In the computing sphere, we’ve also seen not just chatbots and AI authors, but artificial intelligence-powered artwork creation too, so perhaps bringing AI to the interface of an OS is a logical next step.

Admittedly, adding a bit of a 3D effect (presumably) to the desktop wallpaper is a very small step, but nonetheless a discernible stride. It’s easy enough to envisage a future where AI not only jazzes up what you’re looking at on the desktop, but perhaps predicts what you might need in terms of functionality.

Microsoft is currently experimenting with how much time it takes for the snap layouts flyout to appear, for example, and perhaps that could be intelligently adjusted to appear really snappily (ahem) for those who use that particular feature a lot.

Microsoft is also playing around with tailored recommendations and suggestions in the interface anyway, but the trouble with this is that there’s a thin line between a recommendation and an advert.

Similarly, when it comes to prettying up the interface, what users don’t want is better aesthetics at the expense of performance and responsiveness on the desktop. That said, these features being optional ensures that if you don’t like something, you don’t have to use it (which is the case for this new depth effects setting).

It’s hard not to be concerned about what might happen when AI is brought into wider play with Windows in this manner, though. Especially when we look at what has happened with the launch of the Bing AI, which quickly got into trouble on all sorts of fronts – though admittedly, it’s still very early stages for the chatbot.

Still, AI, by its very nature, is unpredictable – how it’ll learn, react, and implement things – so it may not be all that wise to be moving too fast to usher in artificial intelligence infused across the Windows interface. Lessons that the Bing bot has already taught us quite clearly…

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Zoom could be planning even bigger events

Although Zoom may be best known for its video conferencing software, its platform also supports virtual events and the company's latest acquisition will allow these events to be both larger and more complex.

According to a new blog post, the company believes that the future of events will include a combination of virtual and in-person formats. As a result, its customers will require a holistic solution that allows them to build, host and manage virtual and hybrid events.

Zoom first introduced Zoom Video Webinars back in 2014 to enable organizations to share information and interactive video presentations with up to 50k people. However, back in July of this year, the company unveiled Zoom Events to make it possible for businesses and other organizations to host in-person events that also have a virtual element.

In order to showcase some of the exciting new capabilities in Zoom Events, Zoom used its new Conference event type for Zoomtopia 2021 which saw over 33k virtual guests attend the tech conference from around the world. Now though, the company has acquired several tools as well as some top talent from the startup Liminal to make it easier for organizations to produce professional programs and performances from anywhere in the world.

Bridging the gap

As reported by The Verge, Zoom has announced that it has acquired two add-ons from the startup Liminal that can be used to create professional virtual events.

The first is ZoomOSC that will allow its customers to enhance professional meetings and events using the Open Sound Control (OSC) protocol. This add-on also enables users to integrate Zoom Events with third-party software, hardware controllers and media servers. The second add-on, ZoomISO, makes it possible to export each participants' video feed as a separate output to professional production hardware with the capability to export five feeds in HD.

With the acquisition of these two add-ons, it will be possible to bridge the gap between emerging and traditional event control tools according to Zoom. This will likely be quite useful for broadcast studios, theaters and other organizations that want to create professional streams using the company's video conferencing software.

However, in addition to acquiring Zoom OSC and ZoomISO from Liminal, two of the startup's co-founders (Andy Carluccio and Jonathan Kokotajlo) will also be joining Zoom.

We've also rounded up the best video conferencing software and best online collaboration tools

Via The Verge

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