Microsoft has revamped its search engine, Bing, rolling out similar technology to ChatGPT as it tries to catch up to Google in search.
Google has dominated the space for more than 20 years, with Bing holding less than 4 per cent of market share in Europe for search as of January 2023, compared to Google’s 92 per cent.
Microsoft has made a big bet on the artificial intelligence technology (AI) behind the popular ChatGPT app, investing billions in its creator OpenAI.
Last month, Microsoft announced the technology would be enhancing its Azure cloud-computing services, and now the company has revealed it will be fused with its Bing search engine.
The revamping of Microsoft’s second-place search engine could give the software giant a head start against other tech companies in capitalising on the worldwide excitement surrounding ChatGPT, a tool that’s awakened millions of people to the possibilities of the latest AI technology.
Along with adding it to Bing, Microsoft is also integrating the chatbot technology into its Edge browser.
Microsoft announced the new technology at an event on Tuesday at its headquarters in Washington, the US.
“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.
A public preview of the new Bing launched on Tuesday for desktop users who sign up for it, but Mehdi said the technology will scale to millions of users in the 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.
Battle for search supremacy enters new era
The announcement comes just days after Google revealed its apparent answer to ChatGPT with Bard - which is currently not available for public testing.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a blog post about Bard that it will use information taken from the internet “to provide fresh, high-quality responses”.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on Tuesday that new AI advances are "going to reshape every software category we know," including search, 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”.
The shift to making search engines more conversational - able to confidently answer questions rather than offering links to other websites - could change the advertising-fueled search business, but also poses risks if the AI systems don’t get their facts right.
Their opaqueness also makes it hard to source back to the original human-made images and texts they’ve effectively memorised, though the new Bing includes annotations that reference the source data.
The message “Bing is powered by AI, so surprises and mistakes are possible” now appears at the bottom of the preview version of Bing's new homepage. “Make sure to check the facts”.
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 summarising 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.
Gartner analyst Jason Wong said new technological advancements will mitigate what led to Microsoft's disastrous 2016 launch of the experimental chatbot Tay, which users trained to spout racist and sexist remarks.
But Wong told the AP “reputational risks will still be at the forefront” for Microsoft if Bing produces answers with low accuracy or so-called AI “hallucinations” that mix and conflate data.