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Microsoft makes its first keyboard change in 30 years

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Microsoft is adding a new key to its keyboards, the first new key in 30 years. It'll be located near the spacebar and will launch the company's AI-powered assistant, Copilot. For more on the significance of the new edition, we're joined by Ina Fried, chief technology correspondent for Axios. Good morning.

INA FRIED: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Ina, what does this new button do?

FRIED: Basically, it summons Windows Copilot, which is an AI assistant that offers some of the things we've come to be used to from ChatGPT, as well as the ability to use natural language to access some of those Windows commands that have been there but been kind of difficult to remember where they live.

FADEL: OK, so why is Microsoft integrating AI like this into an essential piece of hardware? I mean, tell us the significance.

FRIED: So Microsoft is integrating AI into everything it does. It's made a huge bet. It's invested billions in OpenAI. And it's built these software Copilots, these AI assistants for Windows Office, all of its products, really. And the idea is that, really, this is the next wave of computing. And in some ways, we've talked forever in computing about the ability to just tell the computer what it is you want to do and have it figure out how to do it. That's finally a reality, and that's why it's getting a place on the keyboard.

FADEL: Are Microsoft's competitors planning to make similar changes? I mean, is Microsoft a pioneer here?

FRIED: They are, really, in the sense of the other big computing platform is Apple's Macintosh, and we really haven't heard yet from Apple what its big plans are for this AI era. And I think the biggest thing Microsoft is doing by putting a key on the keyboard is really putting a stake in the ground and saying, we have this AI PC. And finally, after years where computers got more and more similar, I think it is an opportunity for Windows to have a unique differentiation.

FADEL: I mean, I think AI can sound like a scary thing for a lot of people, a computer that just knows what to do. If you could talk about the fears around this as it is integrated into tech.

FRIED: I think there are a lot of fears around AI. I think some of those are more futuristic. They're probably coming but not the things that are here and now. You know, I hear these worries. The robots are going to take over.

FADEL: Yeah (laughter).

FRIED: Really, the real things to be concerned about right now are the fact that these systems - they still make stuff up. They contain all of our human knowledge, so they contain all of our biases. Those are actually the things to worry about right now. But I think it's also forgotten that there's a lot of promise here in making computing more accessible. You know, I think about my parents, who aren't so good with computers. If this gets refined, they'll just be able to tell the computer what they want, which - isn't that what we've all wanted all along?

FADEL: Yeah, making it all easier. So it may just be one key, but it feels like a really significant change. Does this mean AI soon be part of a lot of the tech we use? Or maybe it already is.

FRIED: It is. It's mostly been behind the scenes. I mean, if you think of autocomplete on your phone, that's AI at work. I think it is a sense that putting a key on the keyboard is saying, this is mainstream. This is ready for everyone, not just early adopters.

FADEL: Ina Fried, chief technology correspondent for Axios. Thank you so much, Ina.

FRIED: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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