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Microsoft’s latest obsession risks creating a security nightmare

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The coolest technology of all today – at least amongst the tech bros, is artificial intelligence. Microsoft’s drive to put it wherever it can has become all-consuming. Dubious “assistance” is being added to every application. 

AI-powered adverts have even begun to appear in the Windows start menu – something surely no one ever asked for. But this desire to prove that it really isn’t Mark Corrigan is a gamble.

Microsoft has set a price for the business for its chatty artificial intelligence pop-ups – it calls them “co-pilots” – of $30 per user per month. If it’s as successful as Microsoft hopes, it will require vast amounts of capital expenditure, given the energy required to power them. 

Data centres will require 50pc more power in the EU in 2026 than they did in 2022. Microsoft wants someone to “lead project initiatives for all aspects of nuclear energy infrastructure for global growth”. It has small modular reactors in mind.

And the question of whether business thinks it’s worth paying for is also open to question. If fewer staff are needed, $30 per month sounds like a bargain.

According to Parkinson’s law, work expands to fill the time available for its completion, and studies have suggested that the employees keenest on AI are the least productive. 

They can spend more of the day pretending to look busy. Microsoft has benefited from this social dynamic before from its PowerPoint program, which has been banned by some companies including Amazon and replaced with more efficient information-sharing. 

ChatGPT-powered Bing hasn’t seen any jump in market share. Businesses don’t have the luxury of “hallucinations” when some 20pc of answers are wrong or irrelevant. 

The worry is that in its determination to convince business that it needs something it may not want, and dreaming of nuclear reactors, the basic software plumbing is not being maintained. Last week, chief executive Satya Nadella assured analysts that Microsoft was now “putting security above all else – before all other features and investments”.

Perhaps that isn’t enough. 

In 2002, Microsoft Windows had become the Achilles’ heel of the internet, notorious for its poor security. The company responded by halting work, shutting down its Windows division, and sending 85,000 employees on a week-long training course. The chances of that happening now, in the race to AI seem remote. 

And in any case, wouldn’t that be boring?

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