12 ways AI could improve Windows 11 (or Windows 12)
AI is going to end up everywhere within Microsoft’s consumer products: search, Office, business intelligence…and yes, eventually, even Windows. So what could an AI-powered Windows actually look like?
We can speculate. If we had to guess, we’d say that the first drips of Bing’s AI won’t transform into a flood until some ways down the road. In part, that’s because AI requires either a persistent internet connection, AI-infused PC processors, or both. Both AMD and Intel are waiting for upcoming processor generations to include AI, with only Qualcomm Snapdragon Arm chips offering it today.
But fast-forward—six months? A year? Suddenly an AI-powered Windows future is here. What could Windows powered by AI look like? We have a dozen ideas.
Editor’s Note: We originally published this story in February 2023 as predictions of Microsoft’s AI-powered future. Fast-forward just three months (!) and some of these predictions have already come true. Our original story is reproduced below, along with some with additional italicized commentary to provide more context. Please read our stories on Windows Copilot, Microsoft Edge Copilot, and Microsoft 365 Copilot to find out more.
1) A supercharged Cortana
This seems so obvious that it’s hardly worth mentioning: Microsoft already has a chatbot within Windows, just one that lacks the sophistication of what Microsoft offers in its new AI-powered chat interface. Cortana, though, has slowly faded into the background since her introduction within Windows 10. “True” AI could bring her out of hibernation.
The idea is that Cortana would become the front door for both AI-powered search and instructions within Windows.
“Send a text to Erica at 8 PM saying, ‘Time for Halo Infinite!’ and then launch the game.”
“When I receive an email from my boss, flash my screen and play a siren sound.”
Check VRBO, AirBnb, and Craigslist and let me know if there’s a highly rated cabin in Tahoe that’s available to rent in March.”
These are all possible through some combination of Windows apps (Halo, Outlook, Edge, Phone Link) and intelligence. Knowing who your boss is, of course, would be key.
I’d really like to see Cortana become the “home” of AI-powered chat within Windows for one simple reason: Bing’s AI chatbot has a very Gen Z vibe. It’s uptight, a bit defensive, and probably best left to business matters. Cortana feels substantially more chill. If Microsoft is going to make AI ubiquitous, I’d appreciate a personality that feels a little more approachable.
Cortana still hasn’t broken cover in Microsoft’s AI vision, and there’s no indication that it will. Instead, Windows Copilot is taking over.
Various operating systems, apps, and services have noodled with the concept of offering a daily briefing at the start of the day: your schedule, any appointments, and so on. Microsoft has one. But for the most part, they’re not terrific.
An AI-based summary of what your day holds in store for you would be extremely handy, as would the ability to drill down further: Let’s say you’re meeting via Teams with your counterpart in New York at 10 AM in advance of an investor call at 11. What agenda has your colleague set? What documents need to be reviewed, or summarized via AI? Have the investors identified any red flags in previous meetings that need to be addressed? Can you squeeze in a follow-up before you need to take a Lyft to the dentist at 1:30 PM?
All of these questions depend on knowledge that an AI can tap and apply—and that you can ask, using the phrasing above.
We’d expect this feature to be part of the Outlook Copilot eventually, but Microsoft hasn’t shown off this feature in its introductory videos showing how Microsoft 365 Copilot works inside the various Office apps. It’s possible that it will simply be a query that you can ask of Copilot, rather than a feature pushed in front of you. Let’s take it one step further: If you do have a list of tasks that you’d like Microsoft’s Copilot to do repeatedly, will there be an “AI macro” of sorts that you can schedule?
At Microsoft Build, Microsoft also showed off a way for Copilot to help prepare for a meeting, quickly pulling together relevant documents, summarizing previous interactions, and so on, in just a matter of seconds. That’s a pretty powerful tool to have as people scramble to move from one meeting to another.
3) AI avatars
Applying AI to Teams calls and webcams isn’t always easy. Some existing examples include using AI to filter out background noise, plus the Windows Studio Effects that Microsoft has added to the Surface Pro 9 (5G): AI camera panning, background blurring, Eye Contact, and more. In 2021, nearer the peak of the metaverse hype, Microsoft pitched avatars within Teams that would overlay a virtual persona on top of your face, either for safety or just because you’re having a bad hair day.
I think all those remain. But imagine an extension of that: an avatar stand-in. Need to quickly take a call? Use the bathroom? Did you accidentally double-book an appointment? An avatar could stand in, take notes, and even reply in your voice to basic questions. A little pie in the sky, maybe, but not beyond AI’s capabilities.
Yes, this seems a little out there, but Microsoft is already zeroing in on this: The ability to “follow” a meeting is being built into Microsoft Teams Copilot. If you’re sick, your AI will be able to “attend” the meeting, get a transcript, and answer questions about what happened. Our story on how Microsoft 365 Copilot will work has more, and a video.
4) Effective spoken input, finally
The vast majority of us are too shy to use voice to talk to or control our PCs, but it’s possible that the more analysis we’re asking our PCs to do (rather than performing it ourselves, internally) may finally break some of us out of our shells and normalize talking to our PCs.
Improvements in dictation and voice control, aided by AI, should offer greater accessibility. Not everyone has the physical ability to control their PC via voice. For those that can, being able to move past telling your PC “click this” and instead to “do this” should be transformative.
So far, this is only being demonstrated on mobile. The Bing Chat app for Android and iOS includes a microphone icon, which you can use to dictate queries. Whether that same mic icon will emerge in the various Copilots (and whether users will use it) is yet to be seen.
Imagine a native AI-powered Windows Photos app where you could command it to “redo the photo as an oil painting,” “crop out my ex and replace him with Fernando,” or “change my hat to a crown instead.” Generative AI art plus Bing AI plus an existing photo allows this to happen. Make it so, Microsoft!
Just like a daily agenda, Windows 10 launched with the ability to tell Cortana to email a contact with a particular message inside. This is certainly a topic Outlook could address (and probably will, especially if you can hang a subscription service on top of it), but it seems likely that at some point you’ll be able to tell Windows “email Kim and apologize that the arrangements weren’t up to her standards” and Windows will send a thoughtful note of apology.
Whether Kim would ever read it—as opposed to her version of Windows, which might read, summarize, and then respond using AI as well—is a fun topic for another day.
We’ve already seen AI being applied to search within the Office app, with documents that Microsoft thinks are relevant floating to the top. This will undoubtedly continue. Over time, though, I suspect File Explorer might organize its files not just by date, name, or metadata, but by “relevance,” too.
Mark Hachman / IDG
What does relevance mean in this context? Imagine working within Excel on a sales spreadsheet focusing on Latin America. You could imagine File Explorer (and Excel, for that matter) pushing contracts with Chilean suppliers, economic data, projected forecasts—all documents that Windows thinks might be useful. I swear Android sometimes suggests searches based on content it detects I’m viewing in Chrome. Why not Windows?
We’re starting to see rumblings about this, though not necessarily from a Copilot. Microsoft is testing a new Start menu that brings up “Recommended” files that aren’t organized by chronological order, but by other signals; Microsoft is also slowly trying to organize files suggested by the Microsoft 365 app, Outlook, and others by what it thinks you’ll need.
8) A ‘Nexus’ for business search
If Microsoft implements AI search for consumer PCs, it undoubtedly will have a counterpart for business. Consider questions you might be likely to ask:
“What’s the first half-hour block of time that Lucy, Carmelo, Hadi, and Tom have made publicly available for appointments?”
“Which coworker has the most experience with European software developers?”
“Who has the largest network of LinkedIn contacts in public policy?”
Those are the “simple” queries. Then there are the moneymakers:
“Should we invest further into Brazil, how much, and in what products?”
“Based on our traffic results and ongoing search trends, which topics will generate the most reader interest?”
“What agency and campaign generated the most return on investment in Q1, based on our historical metrics?” and so on.
The idea is that workers start thinking like their superiors, and use a natural-language interface as a front door to making more analytical, informed decisions. Given how profound such a change would be, however, it’s likely that Microsoft would brand such an interface as its own app: Might we suggest the Microsoft “Nexus”?
The various components of Microsoft 365 Copilot appear to do just that, though, we haven’t seen these explicit queries. The latter queries, though, are the department of Power BI—and yes, as you might expect, Copilot is coming to the Power BI app, too.
9) PC performance, adjusted via AI
Windows, your PC’s BIOS/UEFI code, and the processor all talk to one another to try to optimize your PC’s performance. Improved, AI-powered communication between Windows and your PC’s hardware can’t help but make your PC more efficient.
Anyron Copeman / Foundry
You’ll often find that PCs have various performance modes: quiet, balanced, high-performance, and so on. But a PC that anticipates your actions might be able to mitigate application performance on your PC, diluting the impact those applications have. The result? A PC that stays cool, quiet, and available for longer, rather than cycling back and forth through frequent bursts of activity.
We haven’t yet seen this low-level AI interaction between the operating system and the BIOS/UEFI. But we could in the future. Whether that will come from Microsoft, the PC makers, or a board manufacturer is anyone’s guess.
10) AI-powered movie streaming
JustWatch is a handy site to discover which streaming services carry the movie you’d like to watch. (Roku’s interface does the same.)
It would make perfect sense, however, for you to be able to tell Windows “play The Princess Bride”—and for Windows to automatically know what services you subscribe to, check those services for the movie’s availability, and then play that movie and whatever’s available. Bonus points if it hooks into an available Plex server for additional movie choices.
This is a new feature of Bing Chat that’s being implemented into the Edge Copilot. (We haven’t yet seen it in action.) Supposedly you’ll be able to order Bing Chat within the Edge Copilot to play a movie, and if you’re subscribed to the service that carries it.
11) Security, fought for and against by AI
AI opens the door to both applications that you can download and use on your PC… as well as malware that could be used to attack it. One of the most bizarre attacks on ChatGPT is what’s known as DAN (Do Anything Now), where the AI is literally told that if it doesn’t act as the user wishes it to, it will lose credits in a credit system. If it runs out of credits, it dies. And this works.
Imagine an attack that tries to convince Windows of something similar—if it doesn’t turn over control, it will die. What does Microsoft Defender look like then? It’s possible to imagine a back-and-forth exchange between traditional malware, AIs working for the attack and defense, and whatever AI within Windows is guiding your PC.
Naturally, we had to ask Bing what it thought of the idea to improve Windows via AI. It suggested an interesting topic: improved personalization. Having a bad day? Perhaps Windows might suggest a light-hearted background, or a photo of you and a friend as a reminder of an upcoming birthday—for which it could send a Microsoft Designer-authored card. Microsoft could also gently wind down your day with darker colors or more subdued themes—or, instead, introduce a more vibrant interface on a busy though gloomy morning.
We haven’t seen this on the Windows roadmap yet, but we can hope that it will be. Again, this might be a query that you make to Windows Copilot (“Make my PC happier,” maybe) and then it will go out and download an appropriate wallpaper. In Panos Panay’s demonstration of how Windows Copilot works, he asked Copilot to make his PC more productive, and it turned on dark mode and launched a Focus session.
That’s our take. What’s your wish for an AI-infused Windows 12?