Microsoft Corp added new AI technology to its Bing search service and Edge browser last week, making use of the same technology behind hit chatbot ChatGPT. But what really is different about the new Bing and what sets it apart from existing search engines?
Company chairman and CEO Satya Nadella hailed the launch as “a new day in search; a new paradigm for search.” He told a media event in the U.S. that Bing is intended to give people more detailed search results, by finding more complete and clearcut answers to questions.
Bing gets AI chat
Launched in 2009 as a replacement for Microsoft’s Live Search, Bing is a web search engine that provides a range of services such as video, image, and map search. Bing traces its roots to the tech company’s previous search engines MSN Search and Windows Live Search.
Since its launch, however, Microsoft has struggled to challenge the dominance of Google in the online search business, holding less than 5% of the global market share. Analysts say the idea right now is for Microsoft to snatch a little more market share from the market leader.
Microsoft chief financial officer Amy Wood told an investor call on February 7 that “every percentage point of share it gains in search equals roughly $2 billion in additional advertising revenue,” according to a report by The Information.
Wood is hoping that will be possible with the AI-powered Bing. The improved service differs from regular search engines which rely on the traditional algorithmic approach, where a crawler technology kicks and displays all search results.
According to CEO Satya Nadella, the revamped Bing runs on a more “powerful” large language model from OpenAI than the one which supports ChatGPT. It is customized specifically for search and combines improvements from ChatGPT and GPT-3.5 to be “faster and more accurate.”
In a live demonstration of the new product in Seattle, Nadella said Bing will offer more than just a list of search results. It will also respond to questions with more detail, chat with users, and generate content as requested by browsers in their queries.
He called these tools an “AI co-pilot for the web.” Bing Chat sits inside the Bing search engine and Edge web browser. Microsoft claims the chat helps answer more complex questions that are not readily available on the web from the current search tech.
What can you do with the new Bing Chat?
According to Microsoft officials, Bing uses the prometheus model, the result of a partnership with OpenAi. The model is said to “improve search relevancy, annotate searches, provide up to date results, improve understanding of geolocation, and increase safety of answers.” The company has invested several billions of dollars in OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT.
But users who tested the AI search report that Bing can also produce nonsensical responses, referred to as “hallucinations.” From declaring undying love to a New York Times columnist to swearing at people and issuing veiled threats, Bing has had a very busy last few days.
Obviously, this does not look like the kind of vision Microsoft executives had at the product launch; we were all sold a different story. Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft vice president and consumer chief marketing officer, claimed the new Bing could do wonders.
He said the search service can answer technical questions about whether a parcel can fit into a Honda model’s trunk or interior by searching the specifications and dimensions of the car and making an estimation of whether the parcel will fit.
To date, he said, no other search engine could perform such a task. That’s just one example.
Mehdi revealed Bing Chat can also help a user to refine a search and narrow it to get better answers and results. For instance, the bot can help with trip planning and shopping research, areas that are not covered by existing search engines. Seamless transition for search to chat.
To bolster his claim, Mehdi prompted the AI to plan for a 5-day trip to Hawai and it produced an elaborate itinerary and suggested activities to do there. When it was asked to search for flatscreen TVs, it did so while also comparing prices and providing the latest information.
I asked Bing to help me plan a Disneyland trip for my girls and here's its answer: pic.twitter.com/ZB9URVwuvO
— Peter Yang (@petergyang) February 9, 2023
Apart from planning travel, the chat can originate an email and share it with other people such as family, so they have an idea of the itinerary. Among other things, it also translates the same information into 100 languages in a few seconds of being prompted to do so.
“With answers, we go far beyond what Search can do,” said Mehdi.
“Bing goes further to answer complex searches for which there is no ready precise answer. It helps to refine your query until you can find exactly what you’re looking for. It comes in handy for things like tree planting and shopping research.”
AI to reshape the Internet, says Nadella
Additionally, the chat summarized key takeaways from a 15-page financial report, condensing them into digestible points in a matter of seconds when prompted to do so, according to the live demonstration video.
A cursory look at similarly modeled engines shows that they are minimalist and lack customization options. Whereas Google’s cross-performing products give it a self-contained feel. Bing is on the maximalist side thanks to AI, and is designed for personalization.
Beyond search, ChatGPT has notoriously threatened a civilizational dent due to its ability to respond to intellectual prompts including generating images, essays, even a Kindle-worthy novel down to fine contextual specifications.
The new Microsoft Edge browser will have the Bing AI capabilities built in with two additional functionalities, chat and compose. It allows users to chat with the search tool on the side of a web page, to ask questions about the page, or compare it with content from elsewhere.
“You can also ask Edge to help you compose content, such as a LinkedIn post, by giving it a few prompts to get you started,” added Mehdi.”
For Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, this is an exciting time in technology.
“The broad contours of this next platform are just getting clearer and clearer each day. The advances, what’s possible, that’s what excites us in our industry,” he said.
“When you talk about AI, it’s about alignment with human preferences and societal norms and you’re not going to do that in the lab. When we come up with new models, we put a premium on human agency.”
Continuing, Nadella said:
“AI tech is going to reshape every software category. The Web was born on PC and server, evolved into mobile and cloud services, and now the question is how AI is going to reshape the Web.”
Without the browser, Nadella reckons the internet would not have been as popular as it is today. There is around 10 billion search queries a day, but half of them go unanswered, according to some estimates.