RIP Cortana: Windows 11 is getting a new AI 'personal assistant'

At its Build event today, Microsoft announced that a new AI assistant called Copilot (as seen in a few Microsoft apps already) is coming to the Windows 11 preview build in June. I don't know if the introduction of Copilot as a Windows-wide "personal assistant" means that what's left of Cortana will be overwritten, but it may as well be, since Copilot serves the same function but with the ultra-hyped mirage of intelligence provided by a generative language model. Copilot can answer questions about Windows features, suggest Spotify playlists, summarize the contents of documents, and act on requests like "Can you send this logo to the Design Squad in Teams?" 

That latter task, which appears in the video demonstration above, could've been accomplished by opening Teams and dragging the image there instead, but I suppose the point was to show off Copilot's ability to process natural language requests, not to demonstrate efficient computer use. 

Microsoft's video isn't nearly as fun to watch as today's Adobe Photoshop AI demonstration, but if typing "show me the damned network adapter settings" actually takes me to the damned network adapter settings without making me wander around in the infuriating modern Control Panel trying to remember which button goes there, I may get some use out of Copilot. (The button is "More network adapter options" and I'll forget again before the next time I need it.)

"Just like you would with Bing Chat, you can ask Windows Copilot a range of questions from simple to complex," wrote Windows head Panos Panay in a blog post today. "If I want to call my family in Cyprus, I can quickly check the local time to make sure I’m not waking them up in the middle of the night. If I want to plan a trip to visit them in Cyprus, I can ask Windows Copilot to find my family flights and accommodations for mid-winter break." 

I feel like Panay probably doesn't need to ask Copilot what time it is in Cyprus to know when he can call his family, but we get the picture: You can ask it to do stuff. 

Panay had some other AI-related news to share today, too: new AI development features in Windows 11 and a dedicated section for AI tools on the Microsoft Store, where AI will also be used to generate summaries of user reviews.

"We are making it faster and easier for customers to scan reviews for apps by using the power of AI to compile thousands of reviews into a simple summary, enabling customers to discover new content with ease," wrote Panay.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

It's no big leap to wonder if we'll eventually see generative AI used in a similar fashion on stores like Steam, where games can amass tens of thousands of user reviews—Valve does like processing and presenting a bit of data. If not Steam, I'm sure AI will be just about everywhere else online in not too long. Microsoft is just one of many companies rushing to get generative AI models into its products, even as regulators, researchers, and entrepreneurs (whatever their reasons) worry about the speed at which it's being deployed. 

(Side note: In Halo, AI entities like Cortana naturally go mad and turn on humanity, so maybe that's why we're getting generic names like "Copilot" from Microsoft now that the technology is advancing.)

One of many concerns is the habit of large language models like ChatGPT to tell users fabricated information. Presumably Microsoft is confident in Copilot's ability to deliver accurate answers, but we definitely shouldn't be—it's not as if other AI tools have been carefully honed before going to market. 

I'm definitely going to treat Copilot suspiciously—my sister sends weird enough texts by dictating to Siri, so who knows what blunders await if I start asking Copilot to write my emails—but yeah, I'll try it out. This is, after all, the start of what I always wanted as a Star Trek-watching kid: a computer I can talk to. (We just have to hope it's not one of those episodes where the computer almost kills everyone.)

My thinking has turned a bit more practical as an adult, so the truly big Windows news for me today is that it's finally getting built-in support for rar files.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.