Bing powered by Microsoft’s ChatGPT makes searching interesting again

Bing powered by Microsoft’s ChatGPT makes searching interesting again

Bing powered by Microsoft's ChatGPT makes searching interesting again

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I still remember the first time I used Google. I was a nerdy, internet-obsessed preteen, and for weeks afterwards, I couldn’t help but tell my friends and family about the cool new search engine with the weird, seussian name: How Fast It retrieved results, how smoother and more intuitive it was than existing search engines like AltaVista and WebCrawler, and how magical it was to be able to summon knowledge from the depths of the Internet.


I felt the same sense of awe this week when I started using the new AI-powered Bing. (Yes, Bing, Microsoft’s eternally mocked search engine. It’s okay now. I know, I’m still adapting too.)

Microsoft released the new Bing, which is powered by artificial intelligence software from OpenAI, maker of the popular chatbot ChatGPT, to much fanfare at an event at the company’s headquarters on Tuesday. It was billed as a landmark event – Microsoft’s “iPhone moment” – and many Microsoft executives, including Chief Executive Satya Nadella, proudly moved around the conference center, talking to reporters and showing off new products. of the company.

But the real star was Bing itself or, rather, the artificial intelligence technology that was plugged into Bing to help answer user questions and chat with them about every topic imaginable. (Microsoft won’t say which version of the OpenAI software runs under Bing’s hood, but it appears to be based on GPT-4, a language model that has yet to be released.)

Microsoft, which first invested in OpenAI in 2019 and relaunched with a $10 billion investment this year, is capitalizing on a wave of recent advancements in AI capabilities to try to catch up with Google, which has long occupied a dominant position in the research market. (And who’s been spooked by all the recent ChatGPT hype for releasing its own AI tools.) Microsoft plans to eventually embed OpenAI’s technology in many of its products.

But Bing’s relaunch is particularly important for Microsoft, which has struggled to gain a foothold in search for years. If it works, it could reduce Google’s dominance and part of the more than $100 billion in annual search ad revenue that comes with it.

The new Bing, which is currently only available to a small group of testers and will soon be more widely available, looks like a hybrid of a standard search engine and a GPT-like chatbot. Type in a prompt – for example, “Write me a menu for a vegetarian dinner” – and the left side of your screen fills with standard ads and links to recipe websites. On the right side, Bing’s artificial intelligence engine begins typing out a response in full sentences, often annotated with links to the websites from which it retrieves information.

To ask a follow-up question or make a more detailed request – for example, “Write a grocery list for this menu, sorted by aisle, with the quantities needed to make enough food for eight people” – you can open a window chat and type. (For now, the new Bing only works on desktops using Edge, Microsoft’s web browser, but the company told me it plans to expand to other browsers and devices eventually. )

I tested the new Bing for a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, and it’s a definite improvement over Google. It’s also an improvement over ChatGPT, which, despite its many features, was never intended to be used as a search engine. He does not cite his sources and struggles to incorporate up-to-date information or events. So while ChatGPT might write a nice poem about baseball or craft an irritable email to your landlord, it’s less suited to telling you what happened in Ukraine last week or where to find a decent meal in Albuquerque. .

Microsoft worked around some of ChatGPT’s limitations by combining OpenAI’s language capabilities with Bing’s search function, using a proprietary tool called Prometheus. The technology works, basically, by extracting search terms from user requests, running those queries through Bing’s search index, and then using those search results in combination with its own language model to formulate an answer. . In Microsoft’s demos and my own tests, Bing performed well on a wide variety of research-related tasks, including creating travel itineraries, researching gift ideas, and summarizing books and storylines. of movies.

Microsoft has also integrated OpenAI’s technology into Edge, its web browser, as a sort of superpowered writing assistant. Users can now open a panel in Edge, enter a general topic, and get an AI-generated paragraph, blog post, email, or list of ideas written in one of five tones. (Professional, casual, informative, enthusiastic, or fun.) They can paste this text directly into a web browser, social media app, or email client.

Kevin Roose and Casey Newton are the hosts of Hard Fork, a podcast that makes sense of the rapidly changing world of technology. Subscribe and listen.

Users can also chat with Edge’s built-in AI about any website they visit, asking for summaries or additional information. In a stunning demo on Tuesday, a Microsoft executive navigated to Gap’s website, opened a PDF file with the company’s latest quarterly financial results, and asked Edge to summarize key takeaways and create a table comparing the data with the most recent. financial results of another clothing company, Lululemon. The AI ​​did both, almost instantly.

The new Bing is far from perfect. Like ChatGPT, it’s prone to spouting nonsense that sounds confident, and its responses can be erratic. When I gave her a basic math riddle – “If a dozen eggs cost $0.24, how many eggs can you buy for a dollar?” – he got the answer wrong. (He said 100; the correct answer is 50.)

It also didn’t go over well when I asked her for a list of kid-friendly activities happening in my hometown next weekend. Among Bing’s suggestions were a Lunar New Year parade (which happened last weekend), a fundraiser for a local school (which happened two weekends ago), and a ” tie-dye Hanukkah celebration” (which took place in mid-December).

There are also legitimate questions about how quickly all of this AI technology is being developed and deployed. And, of course, using AI language models to answer search queries raises a litany of thorny questions about copyright, attribution, and bias. (To name one obvious one: what will happen to all the publishers who rely on Google as a source of traffic if no one on Bing needs to click on the links to their sites?)

But focusing on where these tools fail risks missing what’s so amazing about what they achieve. When the new Bing works, it’s not just a better search engine. It’s a whole new way of interacting with information on the Internet, the full implications of which I’m still trying to understand.

Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s chief technology officer, and Sam Altman, OpenAI’s chief executive, said in a joint interview Tuesday that they expect these issues to be resolved over time. It’s still early days for this kind of AI, they said, and it’s too early to predict the downstream consequences of putting this technology in the hands of billions of people.

“With any new technology, you can’t perfectly predict all issues and mitigations,” Altman said. “But if you run a very tight feedback loop, at the rate things are changing, I think we can get to very strong products very quickly.”

So far, only one thing seems clear: After years of stagnation and stasis, Microsoft and OpenAI have made research interesting again.

After rendering this column, I’m going to do something I thought I’d never do: I switch my desktop’s default search engine to Bing. And Google, my default news source for my entire adult life, is going to have to fight to get me back.


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