“It’s a new day in search,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at an event announcing the products. The paradigm for web search, according to Nadella, hasn't changed in decades, but AI can offer information more swiftly and fluidly than conventional techniques.
“The race starts today, and we’re going to move and move fast,” Nadella said. “Most importantly, we want to have a lot of fun innovating again in search, because it’s high time.”
Today, the company showed how "the new Bing" operated in a variety of settings. One of settings allows users to interact directly with the Bing chatbot by asking it questions in a chat interface like ChatGPT, while another mode displays conventional search results alongside AI annotations.
Microsoft demonstrated several sample searches, including looking for travel advice, recipes, and Ikea furnishings. Bing was instructed to "prepare an itinerary for each day of a 5-day trip to Mexico City" in one demonstration. The chatbot provided a complete response, including a general itinerary and providing links to more resources.
The new Bing, unlike ChatGPT, which is limited to information up to the end of 2021, can also find news about recent occurrences. In the demonstrations, the search engine could even respond to inquiries regarding its own launch by identifying news articles that had been posted within the previous hour.
Microsoft says these features are all powered by an upgraded version of GPT 3.5, the AI OpenAI language model that powers ChatGPT. Microsoft calls this the “Prometheus Model,” and says it’s more powerful than GPT 3.5, and better able to answer search queries with up-to-date information and annotated answers.
The new Bing is live today “for desktop limited preview,” but it appears users can only “ask” one of several preset queries and receive the same results each time. There is also a waitlist to sign up for full access in the future.
Microsoft is also introducing "chat" and "compose," two new AI-enhanced services for its Edge browser. They'll be integrated into Edge's sidebar.
While "compose" serves as a writing helper, helping to generate text, from emails to social media postings, depending on a few initial cues, "chat" enables users to summarize the webpage or document they're viewing and ask questions about its contents.
The launch of the new Bing coincides with a flurry of AI activity from rival Google and Microsoft. The popularity of AI text production has skyrocketed since ChatGPT went live on the internet last November. Microsoft is looking to capitalize on this enthusiasm and has already disclosed how this technology would be incorporated across its suite of office applications. Microsoft has a strong partnership with OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT.
Google, on the other hand, was unprepared for what some consider to be a fundamental shift in how users find information online. The introduction of ChatGPT is said to have set off a "code red" within the search engine behemoth, with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin—who had been absent—being called in to help deal with what would pose a danger to the company's main source of income.
In an effort to beat Microsoft's launch, Google released on Monday, Bard, its own ChatGPT. The program was referred to as an "experimental conversational AI service" by CEO Sundar Pichai, who said that it was still being evaluated by a few users and will only be made available to a wider audience in the upcoming weeks. We’ll have more on where these technologies are headed in next week’s issue of the newsletter.
One pitfall to using this level of AI is that it will make mistakes and present the misinformation as though it were fact. Microsoft is well aware of this problem and had a warning placed in Bing’s user interface: “Let's study together. AI powers Bing, thus unexpected outcomes and errors are conceivable. Verify the information and provide feedback so we can grow and learn.”
Finally, there will be other difficulties that haven’t been addressed yet. The income stream that keeps many websites afloat is removed if AI tools like the new Bing collect material from the web without people clicking through to the source. The effectiveness of this new search paradigm will depend on maintaining some of the previous agreements.