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Reviving PC Appeal: How Artificial Intelligence Could Spark a Comeback

TechReviving PC Appeal: How Artificial Intelligence Could Spark a Comeback

The race to integrate artificial intelligence (A.I.) into everyday technology is now targeting laptops. On Monday, Microsoft introduced a new line of computers designed specifically for A.I., known as Copilot+ PCs. These machines are engineered to run A.I. systems directly on their chips, enhancing speed, personalization, and privacy.

Microsoft’s Copilot+ PCs aim to streamline tasks like document retrieval, email management, and web browsing. They also offer automated features for photo editing and language translation. These new designs will be available in Microsoft’s Surface laptops and high-end products running on Windows by major PC manufacturers like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung.

Industry analysts believe the advent of A.I.-enhanced PCs could reverse the decline in personal computer importance. Over the past two decades, as software moved to cloud computing, the demand for the fastest laptops decreased. Users only needed a strong internet connection and a web browser. However, A.I. demands more local processing power, pushing the limits of long-distance cloud-based systems. Current generative A.I. tools, like ChatGPT, rely on data centers with advanced chips, resulting in slower responses and high costs. Microsoft’s goal is to run A.I. systems directly on PCs, reducing lag time and expenses.

To achieve this, Microsoft has been downsizing A.I. models for easier local use. The company claims more than 40 models will run on these new laptops. Although these smaller models are less powerful than cutting-edge A.I. systems, they are becoming increasingly useful for average consumers.

“We are entering a new era where computers not only understand us but can anticipate our needs,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, during an event at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

Analysts predict that Apple will also join the A.I. PC trend, likely announcing upgrades for Siri and more A.I. capabilities for its laptops and iPhones at its upcoming developer conference.

The success of A.I. PCs will depend on the companies’ ability to create compelling reasons for consumers to upgrade. Initial sales of these new computers, priced over $1,000, are expected to be modest. However, Linn Huang, an analyst at IDC, predicts that by the end of the decade, assuming A.I. tools prove useful, A.I. PCs will become ubiquitous.

The computer industry needs a boost, as consumers are upgrading their devices less frequently. The pandemic-induced boom and bust in computer purchases have stabilized, but high-end smartphones with A.I. chips have yet to catalyze a faster upgrade cycle. According to Mehdi Hosseini, an analyst at Susquehanna International Group, significant breakthroughs are still needed to attract consumer interest.

Users can ask Copilot, Microsoft’s chatbot, to find specific files using natural language queries. For instance, asking about a video call with a specific detail will prompt the computer to retrieve the relevant file immediately. This Recall function stores information directly on the laptop, ensuring privacy and security.

Microsoft emphasized that the Recall system allows users to opt-out of sharing specific types of information, and sensitive data, such as financial information and private browsing sessions, will not be monitored by default. The company also showcased live transcripts and real-time translation features for any video streaming on the laptop screen.

Last month, Microsoft released small A.I. models that can run on a phone, performing almost as well as GPT-3.5, which underpinned OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot. Chipmakers have also made advancements, such as optimizing laptop battery life to handle A.I.’s intensive calculations.

Subbarao Kambhampati, a professor at Arizona State University, noted that most A.I. data processing still occurs on company servers, necessitating a fast internet connection. However, the neural processing chips also enhance other functions, such as video editing and virtual backgrounds in video calls, according to Brad Linder, editor of the Liliputing blog. Even if consumers are skeptical of A.I., they might still choose A.I.-enhanced laptops for these additional benefits.

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