Microsoft's New AI Key for Windows 11 Laptops Is a Bold Bid for AI Dominance

The dedicated Copilot key is the biggest change since Microsoft introduced the Windows key in 1994 -- but there's far more to the story than that.

Sareena Dayaram Senior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
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Sareena Dayaram
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Microsoft says that 2024 will be the year of the "AI PC."

Microsoft/Screenshot by CNET

AI is already everywhere at this week's CES, the world's largest technology trade show, where CNET is on the ground covering the ins and outs of the show ahead of its official kickoff. In the runup to the heavy AI focus, Microsoft announced it will introduce a new, dedicated key to launch its AI tool, Copilot on Windows 11 laptops and PCs.

With the push of a convenient keyboard button, Windows 11 users can launch Microsoft's generative AI tool, which is designed to do everything from help you shop for specific items to write a short story, get information and plan travel or a meal.
Not only is the Copilot AI key the biggest change to Windows keyboards in almost three decades, the new keyboard button serves as a physical portal to its Copilot service, which helps people perform tasks like summarizing documents, recommending music and answering questions you might ask a search engine or AI chatbot. Microsoft's move is a step toward putting its AI services in front of more than a billion Windows users.

Read more: With Windows Copilot, AI Is Getting Into Microsoft's Most Important Software

"We believe it will empower people to participate in the AI transformation more easily," Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft's executive vice president and consumer chief marketing officer, said Thursday. "The new key will invoke the Copilot in Windows experience to make it seamless to engage Copilot in your day to day." 

Watch this: Windows Copilot Preview: How to Manage Your PC With the AI Assistant

Microsoft is investing $10 billion into ChatGPT-maker OpenAI, and in the stunning shakeup that momentarily saw OpenAI's co-founder and CEO Sam Altman ousted by its own board, Microsoft CEO Sundar Pichai immediately hired Altman and other key employees. While Altman has since been reinstated at OpenAI, Pichai's quick action underscores Microsoft's big bet on AI chatbots and search through Copilot, formerly called Bing Chat. Microsoft has incorporated generative AI into some of its most important products over the last year, including Windows 11 and Microsoft search engine Bing. Copilot relies on large language models, particularly Open AI's GPT-4.

Which Windows 11 laptops and PCs will use the Copilot keyboard key?

The Copilot key will live to the right of the space bar and activate Microsoft Copilot, and will replace either the menu key or the right control key on some keyboards.

The new button will arrive on the first wave of Windows 11 laptops and PCs of Microsoft's partners in the days leading up to CES this week, as well as at the technology conference itself. The imminent new line of Dell XPS laptops, which CNET has already seen, features the new key.

Microsoft says to expect a wider release in late February through spring, including on upcoming Surface devices. In time, the Copilot button will become a required feature. 

For Windows users who don't have Copilot enabled or those who live in countries where Copilot is not available, the new key will bring up Windows Search. Windows users currently can bring up Copilot by pressing the Windows key + C.

"This [new button] will not only simplify people's computing experience but also amplify it, making 2024 the year of the AI PC," Mehdi wrote.

Read more: Remember Bing? With ChatGPT's Help, It's Coming for Google Search

Editors' note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create some stories. For more, see this post.