What to expect from Microsoft Build 2024: the Surface event, Windows 11 and AI

If you can’t tell by now, virtually every tech company is eager to pray at the altar of AI, for better or for worse. Google’s recent I/O developer conference was dominated by AI features, such as the seemingly lifelike Project Astra assistant. Just before that, OpenAI debuted GPT 4o, a free and conversational AI model that’s disturbingly flirtatious. Next up is Microsoft Build 2024, the company’s developer conference kicking off next week in Seattle.

Normally, Build is a fairly simple celebration of Microsoft’s commitment to productivity, with a dash of code on stage to excite the developer crowd. But this year, the company is gearing up to make even more huge AI moves, following the debut of the ChatGPT-powered Bing Chat in early 2023. Take that along with rumors of new Surface hardware, and Build 2024 could potentially be one of the could be next. most important events Microsoft has ever held.

But ahead of Build, Microsoft is hosting a showcase for new Surfaces and AI in Windows 11 on May 20. Build starts a day later, on May 21. For the average Joe, the Surface event will be the more impactful of the two, as rumors suggest we’ll see some of the first systems with Qualcomm’s Arm-based Snapdragon X Elite chip, alongside new features in the next major Windows 11 update .

That’s not to say it’s all rosy for the Windows maker. Build 2024 is the point where we will see if AI will make or break Microsoft. Will the billions in funding for OpenAI and Copilot projects actually pay off with useful tools for consumers? Or is the push for AI and the fabled idea of ​​’artificial general intelligence’ inherently reckless, because it makes computers more opaque and potentially unreliable? (How exactly do generative AI models arrive at their answers? It’s not always clear.)

Here are a few things we expect to see during Build 2024:

Although Microsoft released updates to the Surface family earlier this spring, these machines were aimed more at business customers, so they aren’t available for purchase in regular stores. A Microsoft spokesperson told us at the time that it is “absolutely here to stay[s] dedicated to consumer devices,” and that the commercially focused announcement was “just the first part of this effort.”

Instead, the company’s upcoming refresh for its consumer PCs is expected to include new 13 and 15-inch Surface Laptop 6 models with thinner bezels, larger trackpads, improved port selection, and the aforementioned X Elite chip. There’s a good chance we’ll also see an Arm-based version of the Surface Pro 10 during the May 20 showcase, which will have a similar design to the Business model that came out in March, but with updated accessories, including a Type Cover with a special Copilot key.

According to The edgeMicrosoft is confident that these new systems can surpass Apple’s M3-powered MacBook Air in terms of speed and AI performance.

The company has also reportedly revamped emulation for x86 software in its Arm-based version of Windows 11. That’s a good thing, since poor emulation was one of the main reasons we hated the Surface Pro 9 5G, a confusing system powered by Microsoft’s SQ3 Arm. chip. That mobile processor was based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, which was not yet proven in laptops at the time. Using the Surface Pro 9 5G was so frustrating that we felt genuinely insulted that Microsoft sold it as a “Pro” device. So you can bet we’re skeptical about any great performance improvements from a new batch of Qualcomm Arm chips.

It will also be interesting to see if Microsoft’s new consumer devices look different from their business counterparts, which were essentially just chip swaps in the bodies of the Surface Pro 9 and Laptop 5. If Microsoft actually bets on mobile chips for its Consumer Surfaces, there’s room for a complete rethink of designs, just as Apple reimagined its entire laptop lineup around its M-series chips.

Aside from updated hardware, one of the biggest upgrades on these new Surfaces should be the vastly improved AI and machine learning performance on the device, thanks to the Snapdragon X Elite chip, which can deliver up to 45 TOPS (trillions of operations per second) from its neural processing unit (NPU). This is critical because Microsoft has previously said that PCs need at least 40 TOPs to run Windows AI functions locally. This brings us to some of the additions that will appear in the next major version of Microsoft’s operating system, including something the company calls its AI Explorer, expanded Studio effects, and more.

According to Windows Central, AI Explorer will be Microsoft’s umbrella term for a range of machine learning-based features. This is expected to include a revamped search feature that will allow users to look up everything from websites to files using natural language input. There may also be a new timeline that lets people scroll back through everything they’ve done on their computer recently, and the addition of contextual suggestions that appear based on what they’re currently watching. And building on some of the Copilot features we’ve seen before, it looks like Microsoft plans to add support for tools like live captioning, extended Studio effects (including real-time filters), and local generative AI tools that can help take photos and more on site.

Microsoft wants an AI co-pilot in everything. The company first launched Github Copilot in 2021 as a way to let programmers use AI to perform everyday coding tasks. At this point, all of the company’s other AI tools have also been rebranded as “Microsoft Copilot” (including Bing Chat and Microsoft 365 Copilot for productivity apps). With Copilot Pro, a $20 monthly offering launched earlier this year, the company offers access to OpenAI’s latest GPT models, along with other premium features.

But there’s still one downside to all of Microsoft’s Copilot tools: they require an internet connection. Very little work happens locally, on your device. That could soon change, however, as Intel confirmed that Microsoft is already working on ways to make Copilot local. That means it may be able to answer simpler questions, like basic math or questions about files on your system, more quickly without you having to do anything on the Internet. As impressive as Microsoft’s AI assistant can be, it still typically takes a few seconds to answer your questions.

After all the new hardware and software are announced, Build is positioned to help developers lay even more groundwork to better support that new AI and expanded Copilot features. Microsoft has already teased things like Copilot on Edge and Copilot Plugins for 365 apps, so we expect to hear more about how these will work. And by checking out some of the sessions already planned for Build, we can see that there’s a huge focus on all things AI, with breakouts for customizing Microsoft Copilot, Copilot in Teams, Copilot Extensions and more.

While Microsoft will certainly attract a lot of attention, it’s important to note that it won’t be the only manufacturer to release new AI PCs. That’s because in addition to updated Surfaces, we expect to see a slew of other laptops with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chip (or possibly the X Plus) from other major vendors like Dell, Lenovo and more.

Admittedly, after Google’s intense focus on AI at I/O 2024, the last thing people want to hear about is even more AI. But for now, Microsoft, like most of its rivals, is betting big on machine learning to grow and expand the capabilities of Windows PCs.

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