This week, I’m at Microsoft Ignite. When I first started working with Microsoft over 30 years ago, we were still using MS-DOS with a Windows overlay, and they made me the top launch analyst for Windows 95. Copilot, like that old GUI overlay, is a precursor to Windows 12, but unlike that old GUI, Copilot will be actively helping to develop Windows 12 based on the massive user data that will be collected on Windows 11 by Copilot from customers and Microsoft employee usage feedback. In a way, this is a bit closer to the .NET wave when Microsoft responded to Netscape’s browser. The company made a hard pivot and, for a time, took leadership in browsers. But again, because the tool will be increasingly used to create what is coming, the development cycle won’t only be faster, but it is likely to make a technology jump far bigger than either of those other two events.
This is Microsoft Bob, Clippy, and Cortana done right. Each of those products was powerful in concept but failed because the technology at the time fell far short of both the requirements and expectations of the developers and users. AI is also being hyped ahead of its capabilities, but it is advancing by several magnitudes faster than anyone has seen before, suggesting the hype, in a few short months, will be exceeded by the coming reality in 2024 and 2025.
To say this is big is a huge understatement. This effort’s eventual goal is to turn your PC into a personal and work companion, co-worker, mentor, mentee, and, I expect for some of us, a friend.
Let me explain.
I’m going to start with security because this morning, I was reading an article where a ransomware company that wasn’t paid a ransom turned the victim of their attack into the SEC because the victim didn’t report the attack as is required by law. This adds another layer of pain to the victim as it basically makes them a criminal because they didn’t properly report that they were attacked, turning a law enforcement entity into a tool for the criminal organization. That is so twisted.
Part of the problem with security breaches, and particularly ransomware, is that the attacker can generally work for an unlimited amount of time to create the problem and is free to make as many mistakes as they can before executing the attack successfully, while the defender’s tools only allow the security organization to respond once the attack is successful.
With Copilot, not only do you have an AI protecting you that can respond at machine speeds, but it can also notice the attempt and alert before the attack is successful, automatically mitigating the attack (often by turning off permissions) and then providing a report so an admin or user can reverse any damage or permission changes once the now failed attack has concluded. That report will provide more information on the attacker, which will better enable law enforcement to bring them to justice.
This one feature not only makes you safer, it makes this kind of business, which is currently generating revenue of $8T per year, potentially less risky and less profitable. By Windows 12, I expect that entire classes of attack types and malware will simply no longer be viable, which should make us all safer.
One of the most compelling demonstrations was from Melissa Grant, who I’ve known for years. She and her partner showcased how a user of Copilot could simply ask their Copilot-enabled PC to do things like write copy, create pictures, format slides and documents, and copy edit with natural language commands (no learning command phrases) to more quickly create higher quality documents and slides.
Her demonstration supported a Wharton study that showcased a 30% initial productivity improvement when using tools like this and up to an 80% improvement when the user became familiar with using AI. What the Wharton study did not address was how much improvement would result if the AI was advancing as fast as it currently is, suggesting that both of those metrics are understated against the more advanced AIs rolling out over the next several years.
This suggests that employees who become experts at using AI will be in high demand, and retention programs will need to be beefed up to ensure that once you train them, they aren’t aggressively recruited into organizations that want to experience the same benefits.
Those of us in tech often perform the role of support, struggling to help our co-workers and relatives do what we think are simple tasks or undoing some of the foolish things they have done to their PCs. Copilot allows these users to ask their PC instead for help. The PC will either take autonomous action to accomplish whatever they need done or guide them through doing it themselves. I think a lot of us who constantly think or say, “OMG, what did you do now?” will be pleased that, with Copilot’s help, we won’t have to play the support role, and when given a task, we’re embarrassed we don’t know how to accomplish, we will appreciate Copilot helping us fix the machine.
On my flight to the event, I sat next to a young woman who was disabled. Her disability made it difficult for her to understand concepts like political parties, technology or even to read. She could use a smartphone for basic tasks but clearly struggled with concepts and tasks that would have been simple for most of us.
Microsoft showcased how Copilot was being used in Ukraine successfully by a coder who was even more disabled than that young girl. It not only helped make him productive, but it offset his disability to such a degree he appeared to be competitive with an average coder who wasn’t disabled.
This could change people’s lives, but it will also change how a lot of us work because if it can offset a disability to this extreme degree, think of how it will supercharge those who don’t have major disabilities.
Wrapping Up: The Windows 12 PC of the Future
While I expect much of the PC of the future will reside in the cloud, I expect the Windows 12 hardware will evolve to more closely match this Cortana demonstration of a few years back, where you increased interface with your PC as if it were a person. Much of the information you’ll see today that would be on a screen will instead be projected into a type of floating VR display that will resize itself based on need. We’ll develop a far deeper relationship with our hardware, which will evolve quickly from something like an ever-smarter digital pet to a digital friend.
It’ll be a change unlike anything we’ve seen before, and the truly interesting, exciting, and honestly somewhat scary part is that we are only at the very beginning of this technology wave. Wait until Windows 12, when the world is likely to look nothing like it does today.
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