Microsoft’s Windows 11 AI love-in looks set to continue – here are 3 big risks it needs to avoid

It looks like Microsoft is doubling down on adding artificial intelligence features to Windows 11, with the newly released schedule for Microsoft’s Build 2024 suggesting that many of the talks and presentations will focus on AI and how it can shape the future of computing.

As Windows Central reports, Build 2024, which runs from May 21 to 23, will feature a session called “Designing for a brand new Windows AI feature” which will highlight “brand-new features that allow users deeper interaction with their digital lives on Windows through advance[d] AI features.”

Some publications, such as Windows Latest, suggest that this new AI feature could be the rumored AI Explorer feature. The event will be hosted by Rebecca Del Rio and Adrienne Pauley, both of whom have previously worked on AI projects at Microsoft.

Microsoft’s Build events are primarily aimed at developers and showcase new features and tools that will help them create cutting-edge apps. However, much like Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Microsoft Build is often of interest to non-developers as well, as it gives us an insight into what the future holds for Windows 11 (or in WWDC’s case, what’s coming to macOS and iOS).

Judging by the released Build 2024 schedule, it looks like the future of Windows 11 will feature AI – a lot of it. Out of 245 sessions, 79 have the topic of ‘AI Development’ or ‘Copilot’ (Microsoft’s AI-powered assistant), and even sessions such as “Introducing the Next Generation of Windows on Arm” that may not initially seem to be focussed on AI will likely have some references. Arm hardware, which is an alternative to AMD and Intel, is getting improved AI support thanks to NPUs (neural processing units).

The fact that Microsoft is continuing to push AI may not be a surprise to many people – the past few months have seen the company adding all sorts of AI features to various parts of Windows 11, and Build 2024 will be a good chance to prove that it’s still committed to its AI push. However, there are three big risks that Microsoft needs to avoid if it wants to achieve its vision.

The three big risks

broken robot on the floor

(Image credit: Charles Taylor / Shutterstock)

1. Failing to show why AI in Windows 11 is worth it

This is perhaps the biggest risk facing Microsoft. While the company has been adding AI to all parts of Windows 11, I really don’t think the company has shown why I should use these new features.

Copilot, Microsoft’s main AI tool, is now integrated into Windows 11, and is undoubtedly very powerful. However, since Microsoft added it to Windows 11, I’ve used it perhaps two times – once to see how it worked, and a second time to generate an image. Since then, I haven't used it – and it’s not because I distrust AI, as I believe it has enormous and exciting potential.

It’s because Microsoft hasn’t given me a reason to use it. I simply do not know how it could make my day-to-day life easier. Regular tasks I perform on my PC could be improved with some AI help, but I can’t see how right now. 

If Microsoft wants to reap the rewards of all the energy and effort it’s been putting into AI, it needs to show its users why we should be as excited as it is about this brave new world. If it doesn’t, then Copilot, and Windows 11’s other AI tools, could soon be forgotten.

2. Forcing people to use it

Another risk for Microsoft is being too overbearing when it comes to encouraging users to try out the new AI tools. As with my first point, Microsoft must show how AI can improve our lives, not just tell us – and force us to try it out.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has a habit of being rather heavy-handed when it comes to trying to get people to use its software and services. Just look at how it tries to get people to stop downloading the Chrome web browser and use Edge instead, or the increasingly invasive pop-ups in Windows 10 that attempt to convince people to upgrade.

Microsoft has already shown a worrying tendency to do the same with Copilot. Earlier this week we reported on the company changing a fundamental touch gesture in Windows 11 to bring up Copilot, and there are numerous rumors that Microsoft could load Copilot and display it on your desktop when you start Windows 11.

Rather than getting more people to try out AI tools, this aggressive behavior could actually put more people off.

Instead, Microsoft should be confident enough in Copilot to allow users to discover it themselves – while highlighting its virtues without interrupting people while they use Windows 11. And, if a user decides Copilot isn’t for them, Microsoft needs to accept their decision, rather than continuing to nag people in the vain hope that they may change their minds.

3. Losing faith too easily

While Microsoft is going all-in on AI at the moment, we’ve been here before, where Microsoft has identified a new flavor of the month, pushed it on its users, and then given up if it’s not an immediate success.

Just look at Cortana – Microsoft’s previous virtual assistant. It came at a time when its rivals were seeing a lot of success with voice assistants like Apple Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa.

Microsoft’s passion meant Cortana was soon tightly integrated into Windows 10 and Windows 11. It had its own taskbar icon and would pop up unbidden when you first set up your new PC. Despite Microsoft’s fervor, it never convinced enough users that Cortana could help improve their lives, and so it ended up being at best an easily forgotten failure, and at worst a useless annoyance. Sound familiar?

Copilot certainly risks falling into the same trap – and the problem is that Microsoft has a reputation for dropping products that fail to take off. Ask any owner of a Microsoft Phone or Zune media player. Or, just look at what ultimately happened to Cortana: the virtual assistant that was once so entwined in Windows that it would pop up as soon as you turned on your new device was slowly hidden away… until it was finally axed and replaced with Copilot.

To avoid this, Microsoft needs to learn from the mistakes it made with Cortana – especially when it comes to convincing its users that Copilot can make a positive impact on their lives. It also needs to have faith that even if Copilot isn’t an immediate hit,  it should continue to invest and improve it, rather than killing it off quickly and moving on to the next thing.

From what I’ve seen and heard from Microsoft, it seems fully committed to AI and Copilot – for now. However, if it doesn’t find a way to prove that AI is the future of Windows, we may see history repeat itself.

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Microsoft risks angering Windows 11 users by adding more adverts in Copilot AI

Microsoft is expanding the rollout of its Copilot AI to testers in the Beta channel for Windows 11 – but it comes with a sting in the tail.

Copilot has arrived with Beta build 22631.2129, but as with the preview incarnation of the AI in earlier builds, it’s in a limited form right now.

As Microsoft observes, this is more about getting the integrated UI for Copilot right – it runs in a sidebar, to the right – rather than testing all its features. We’re told that “additional functionality [is] coming down the road in future previews.”

Also, it should be noted that Copilot will be a “controlled feature rollout” meaning only a small amount of testers will get it initially. It’ll arrive for more folks in the “coming weeks”, so this is a rollout that could take some time.

(It’s also worth noting that not every Insider will get this build either – new testers, and a subset of existing testers, won’t get 22631 as it might cause their device to be put “into a bad state”, which sounds ominous).

If you’re not seeing Copilot and you’re in the Beta channel, then, this isn’t unexpected – but you should make sure you’re running Microsoft Edge version 115.0.1901.150 or better. (As the AI is powered via Edge, you definitely won’t get it on an older version of the browser).

For those who do receive Copilot, here comes that sting we mentioned at the outset. Microsoft tells us: “You may see inline recommendations we think are relevant through ads in Bing. We’ll continue to learn and listen to customer feedback.”

Yes, there we have it – adverts are going to be displayed in Copilot (we’ll come back to discuss that more thoroughly in a moment).

Elsewhere in build 22631, there’s a raft of tweaks and improvements, including some fresh work on bolstering accessibility. That comes in the form of the ability to now use Voice Access on the lock screen, plus there are new text editing controls when using speech dictation. (In order to help correct words that are misheard, or mistyped, as it were, by the voice recognition system – like putting ‘cereal’ when you meant ‘serial’ for example).

Check out Microsoft’s blog post for the full list of changes.

Windows 11 Copilot in Beta channel

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: So, ads in Copilot – testers, make your feelings known…

Windows Copilot making it to a beta build already is a pretty big thing, actually. This relatively swift progress through test builds suggests that Microsoft is serious about getting the AI integrated into Windows 11 this year. Rumors have indicated that Copilot could land with the 23H2 update, and this makes it look like that’s more likely to happen – even though we’ve said in the past we don’t think it will.

We’re still very unsure if it’s wise for Microsoft to push this hard getting Copilot out so quickly, though. The AI remains pretty barebones, and as Microsoft makes clear, it only has a “basic set” of Windows settings you can manipulate. (Turning on dark mode, or do not disturb, or ordering Copilot to take a screenshot are a few examples of Windows 11 functionality given in the blog post).

It's mostly still about the Bing AI summarizing things, or composing a picture, or writing text for you, and so forth – all the stuff that can be done already using the Bing chatbot on the web.

Over time, more features will be added, of course – and third-party plug-ins will expand Copilot’s functionality considerably – but all that seems quite a way down the line.

With Windows 11’s 23H2 update potentially arriving in October, that’s really very close now, so we don’t really get what Microsoft is planning here. It feels like the full launch of Copilot will be a basic incarnation of the AI, if it happens, and that runs the risk of underwhelming with first impressions. Oh well, we shall find out soon enough.

As for Copilot serving up adverts, this is something that Microsoft has said in the past, but the software giant appears to be pushing ahead with this frankly reckless idea. That’s not too surprising, though, as we are seeing more efforts to cram ads into Windows 11 – disguised as recommendations – lately. But obviously, it’s still a very unwelcome move in an operating system Microsoft charges you for.

We’d expect feedback to be pretty withering on this, particularly if, as it sounds, these will be more out-and-out adverts than what we’ve already seen in Windows 11 (like badging in the Start menu). And so hopefully Microsoft will have to take that into account, and curtail these ambitions. Hopefully being the keyword there…

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