“It’s an episode of Black Mirror”: Microsoft’s latest idea with Windows 11 alarm

Microsoft made several announcements around artificial intelligence during its Build conference. One of them, called Recall, caused quite a stir on social networks. It aims to have a local AI, which will feed on everything that happens on the screen.

It’s an episode of Black Mirror. You absolutely must deactivate this ‘function’. » Elon Musk did not chew his words, Tuesday May 21, 2024, when he discovered one of the new features announced during the Build conference which took place the day before. In its viewfinder, “Recall”, an artificial intelligence tool which will memorize everything that happens on the PC screen.

The way Recall will work was clarified by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, during an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The person concerned confirmed that this new service will “ constantly take screenshots of what’s on the screen ”, to then feed a “ generative AI model directly on the device “.

Source: WSJ
Satya Nadella. // Source: WSJ

Will Microsoft now know everything about the actions of the myriad of individuals who use Windows as their operating system? Faced with the legitimate concern that Recall will arouse, Satya Nadella wanted to emphasize the limited scope of the tool. Everything is supposed to happen locally, on the PC, without going back and forth with Microsoft servers.

A tool running locally on the PC

In particular, the tool will be based on a special component, called a neural network acceleration chip (NPU, for Neural Processing Unit). Basically, we understand that not all computers will be affected by this service. You will also need the following prerequisites to use it:

  • Windows 11;
  • An ARM64 processor;
  • A Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite (or X Plus) chip;
  • 225 GB local storage;
  • 16 GB RAM.

This “on-site” processing is supposed to provide sufficient safeguards so as not to alarm the public using Windows. The fear is understandable: very personal information can appear on the screen at any time. Photos, online accounts, search histories, business access, messages, money amounts, etc.

According to Microsoft, this whole approach involves developing a “ photographic memory » of an operating system. “ Now we have it […] This is not keyword research. It’s semantic search through your entire history. And it’s not just any document, we can recreate moments from the past. »

“We can recreate moments from the past”

Satya Nadella

Fundamentally, Recall is not necessarily very different from what contemporary OSes already do, when they index local content, stored on hard drives and SSDs. Windows already takes files and folders into account, including relatively sensitive ones, whether X-ray photos or Excel spreadsheets for bank accounts.

Microsoft assures that everything is local and that it is just a matter of providing a way to “talk” with the PC by asking it questions in natural language (like ChatGPT). However, the impression of a dystopian function is likely to persist in the public mind. Elon Musk’s tweet is the most striking demonstration of this.

Recall should be available in 2024 on compatible computers, during a Windows 11 update expected in September or October. It is not certain that the functionality of permanently taking screenshots of everything that is done on the PC will give a boost to an OS that is definitely struggling to attract people.

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