Copilot key in the Windows PC keyboard

Copilot key in the Windows PC keyboard: A change after nearly 3 decades

Having an AI button on your keyboard sounds great! But it also sounds an awful lot like Microsoft trying to loop you into using their system, which is an issue already litigated 20 years ago in the browser wars.

Microsoft has announced the Copilot key, the first significant change to the Windows PC keyboard in nearly three decades. The key will be added to new Windows 11 PCs in the coming weeks and will stand between the right-hand ALT button and the arrow keys on most keyboards. 

By pressing the key, you can activate Microsoft’s Copilot, a generative AI assistant, which is powered by the same large language model technology as ChatGPT. Microsoft says that the new key will help users, but some people doubt it and compare it to the weird function keys that were all over keyboards in the mid-1990s. 

A month after the Competition and Markets Authority, the U.K.’s antitrust regulator, announced that it was investigating whether Microsoft’s ties to OpenAI were anti-competitive, some others are concerned that Microsoft might be highlighting its dominant position in the AI space.

Catalina Goanta, an associate professor in private law and technology at Utrecht University, notes that the introduction of the AI button on Microsoft keyboards brings back the discussion around the product bundling that helped Microsoft gain market power in the so-called ‘browser wars’ of the ’90s. 

Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows helped solidify the browser’s position at the top of the market for many years as people began migrating online. A similar issue was raised in Europe in 2010, with Microsoft committing to allowing users to make any web browser they chose the default one.

Microsoft is cashing out on the reputation it managed to rebuild over the past two decades, steering away from the techlash that hit Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Juan Ortiz Freuler, a tech lawyer affiliated with Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, believes that the Copilot key suggests Microsoft has perhaps slipped under the radar. At the same time, antitrust and public opinion have been focused elsewhere.

He wants the Copilot key to present users with a carousel of potential generative AI services to pick from, similar to how Microsoft allows Windows users first to set up their devices to pick a default browser rather than simply taking them immediately to Copilot.

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