Microsoft's Copilot key for Windows 11 AI PCs has a secret - it dates back to the mid-1980s

Sort of - at least the mapping behind the Copilot key dates back to IBM PCs which had a massive bank of function keys, some 24 of them, in fact.

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You've doubtless heard about the Copilot key - the dedicated physical key that's present on the keyboard of AI PCs running Windows 11 - but there's a surprising secret behind this new feature.

The Copilot key will likely prove controversial - but you can remap it (Image Credit: Microsoft)

The Copilot key will likely prove controversial - but you can remap it (Image Credit: Microsoft)

This was highlighted by Tom's Hardware, who did some digging with new Dell XPS 14 and XPS 16 laptops that have the Copilot key on their respective keyboard decks, in an effort to find out how the key works.

In other words, what's behind the Copilot key in terms of mapping, and is it a new key with a new scan code? Well, the answer to that question is a short no.

The longer answer, as presented by Tom's Hardware, is that the Copilot key is actually a shortcut comprising of three keys - Left Ctrl + Windows key + F23.

That was the discovery made using an open-source keyboard macro scripting tool, AutoHotkey, which also logs what keystrokes register as. Your first thought is likely to be: F23? What now?

Yes, function keys these days only go up to F12 typically, but way back in the early days of PCs - we're talking about the 1980s, and IBM computers, in fact - function keys extended all the way up to F24.

So, the Copilot key mapping is actually based on keyboards from the mid-80s, which is quite a bizarre turn of events.

You can remap the key, mind, as Tom's outlines, using AutoHotkey (or a similar utility), and that may well be an option some folks choose to exercise - as not everyone will want a dedicated Copilot key. Not everyone wants to summon the desktop-based AI assistant at all, in fact, although there's no way to remove the functionality (not officially, anyway - although you can disable icons and the like).

Copilot is a big part of the future, the way Microsoft envisages it, seeing as the dedicated key for the AI is actually part of the requirements for an AI PC - another somewhat bizarre move in our books. But one which clearly illustrates how much weight Microsoft is placing on Copilot going forward.

The last dedicated key Microsoft added to the keyboard of Windows devices was, well, the Windows key itself. And that was almost 30 years ago now...

Right now, the AI is quite limited in its functionality - as regards modifying Windows settings anyway - but the eventual idea is that the assistant will be capable of activating a myriad of options based off one simple request (like 'make me more productive').

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Darren has written for numerous magazines and websites in the technology world for almost 30 years, including TechRadar, PC Gamer, Eurogamer, Computeractive, and many more. He worked on his first magazine (PC Home) long before Google and most of the rest of the web existed. In his spare time, he can be found gaming, going to the gym, and writing books (his debut novel – ‘I Know What You Did Last Supper’ – was published by Hachette UK in 2013).

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