Microsoft has taken its bet on artificial intelligence up a notch. The company announced on Tuesday that its Bing search engine and Edge browser will incorporate a chat window that can be asked questions. The answers will be provided by the Prometheus model, a new state-of-the-art language model developed in conjunction with OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT.
The revamping of Microsoft’s second-place search engine could give the software giant a head start against other tech companies in capitalizing on the worldwide excitement surrounding ChatGPT, a tool that’s awakened millions of people to the possibilities of the latest AI technology.
Microsoft’s announcement came just hours after Google revealed that it will add its own chatbot, Bard, to the world’s most-used search engine. Two weeks earlier, Microsoft declared its intention to invest $10 billion in OpenAI, a company in which it is already a partner. Since ChatGPT popularized generative artificial intelligence two months ago, a key question has been hanging over the industry: would it eventually displace traditional search engines? Could this chatbot threaten Google’s supremacy?
“Think of it as faster, more accurate, more powerful” than ChatGPT, built with technology from ChatGPT-maker OpenAI but tuned for search queries, said Yusuf Mehdi, a Microsoft executive who leads its consumer division, in an interview. Among the advantages of the Prometheus model is that it will provide safeguards against harmful content, a lesson learned from Microsoft’s disastrous 2016 launch of the experimental chatbot Tay, which users trained to spout racist and sexist remarks.
“Our teams are working to address issues such as misinformation and disinformation, content blocking, data safety and preventing the promotion of harmful or discriminatory content in line with our AI principles,” Microsoft said.
A public preview of the new Bing launched Tuesday for desktop users who sign up for it, but Mehdi said the technology will scale to millions of users in coming weeks and will eventually come to the smartphone apps for Bing and Edge. For now, everyone can try a limited number of queries, he said.
Microsoft has moved quickly to integrate the technology into its products. Its new engine, according to the company, will enable better searches on many levels. It will respond to questions asked by users, seeking to make the relationship with the machine as similar as possible to talking to a friend. “We will make it incredibly easy to use. You’ll be able to chat and ask questions naturally,” said Mehdi during a presentation that also included Microsoft Satya Nadella and Sam Altman, head of OpenAI.
As an example of how it works, Mehdi asked the new Bing to compare the most influential Mexican painters and it provided typical search results, but also, on the right side of the page, compiled a fact box summarizing details about Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Jose Clemente Orozco. In another example, he quizzed it on 1990s-era rap, showing its ability to distinguish between the song Jump by Kris Kross and Jump Around by House of Pain. And he used it to show how it could plan a vacation or help with shopping.
“This new engine incorporating Bing is powered by one of our next-generation models, which takes key learnings from ChatGPT 3.5″, said OpenAI’s Altman.
“AI will fundamentally change every software category, starting with the largest category of all – search,” said Nadella, much like earlier innovations in personal computers and cloud computing. He said it is important to develop AI “with human preferences and societal norms and you’re not going to do that in a lab. You have to do that out in the world.”
While it’s not always factual or logical, ChatGPT’s mastery of language and grammar comes from having ingested a huge trove of digitized books, Wikipedia entries, instruction manuals, newspapers and other online writings. “Bing is powered by AI, so surprises and mistakes are possible,” is a message that appears at the bottom of the preview version of Bing’s new homepage. “Make sure to check the facts.”
According to company executives, the incorporation of Prometheus, the generative artificial intelligence engine, has been accompanied by notable improvements in the accuracy and relevance of the results provided by the Bing search engine. Until now, this was its main shortcoming, which led most users to prefer alternatives such as Google. Microsoft has also applied the new AI model to search, which will presumably result in better results than before.
Bing will now allow searches with texts of up to 1,000 characters. Once the search has been formulated, a list of results will appear in the left-hand column, as it does now. But on the right, a series of links that respond in a more creative way will be provided, expanding content and suggesting others.
Internet searches will increasingly become less about typing in keywords and more about putting forward ideas and requests. Mehdi provided the example of someone who is allergic to eggs. With the new technology, they can ask Bing to update a particular recipe with egg substitutes. The engine will give a new recipe with the exact ingredients and quantities, as if the user were talking to a vegan chef.
Google unveils Bard in response to ChatGPT
In response to pressure over ChatGPT’s popularity, Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Monday unveiled Bard, the company’s own conversational service that will be available exclusively to a group of “trusted testers” before being widely released later this year.
Gartner analyst Jason Wong said Google was caught off-guard with the success of ChatGPT but still has the advantage over Microsoft in consumer-facing technology, while Microsoft has the edge in selling its products to businesses.
Chinese tech giant Baidu also this week announced a similar search chatbot coming later this year, according to Chinese media. Other tech rivals such as Facebook parent Meta and Amazon have been researching similar technology, but Microsoft’s latest moves aim to position it at the center of the ChatGPT zeitgeist.
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