Some computer keyboards are making room for an artificial intelligence chatbot button, as Microsoft unveils its first major keyboard redesign in three decades.

Starting in January, some new personal computers that run Microsoft’s Windows 11 operating system will have a special “Copilot key” that launches the software giant’s AI chatbot.

Getting third-party computer manufacturers like Dell to add an AI button to laptops is the latest move by Microsoft to capitalize on its close partnership with ChatGPT-maker OpenAI and make itself a gateway for applications of generative AI technology.

Although most people now connect to the internet — and many AI applications — by phone rather than computer, it is a symbolic kickoff to what is expected to be a competitive year. Tech companies are racing to outdo each other in AI applications, even as they have not yet resolved all the ethical and legal ramifications.

The New York Times sued both OpenAI and Microsoft in December alleging that tools like ChatGPT and Copilot — formerly known as Bing Chat — were infringing on copyrighted news articles.

The keyboard redesign will be Microsoft’s biggest change to PC keyboards since it introduced a special Windows key in the 1990s. Microsoft’s four-squared logo design has evolved, but the key has been a fixture on Windows-oriented keyboards for about three decades.

The newest AI button will be marked by the ribbon-like Copilot logo and be located near the space bar. On some computers it will replace the right “CTRL” key, while on others it will replace a menu key.

Microsoft is not the only company with customized keys. Apple pioneered the concept in the 1980s with its “Command” key marked by a looped square design – it also sported an Apple logo for a time.

Google has a search button on its Chromebooks and was first to experiment with an AI-specific key to launch its voice assistant on its now-failed Pixelbook.

But Microsoft has a much stronger hold on the broader PC market through its restrictive licensing agreements with third-party manufacturers like Lenovo, Dell, and HP.

Windows runs on just under 30% of all operating systems worldwide in 2023, including workstations and mobile devices. By comparison, Apple’s MacOS and iOS operating systems have a 37% share, and almost 42% for Google’s Android and Chrome OS, according to Statcounter.

Dell Technologies was the first accessories manufacturer to unveil a Copilot key on its newest XPS laptops.

Microsoft did not say which other computer-makers would install the Copilot button beyond Microsoft’s own in-house line of iPad-like Surface devices.

Matt O’Brien and MI Staff

Associated Press

Robert Way, Kung Tom, Morrowind, and HJBC (via Shutterstock)