Opinion – Kevin Roose: With artificial intelligence, Bing beats Google and makes search interesting again


I still remember the first time I used Google. I was a nerdy, Internet-obsessed preteen, and for the next few weeks I couldn’t stop telling my friends and family about the cool new search engine with the weird, childish name: how fast it returned results, how how much more astute and intuitive it was than existing search engines like AltaVista and WebCrawler, and how magical it was to be able to access knowledge from the depths of the Internet.

I felt a similar wonder this week when I started using the new AI-powered Bing. (Yes, Bing, Microsoft’s eternally derided search engine. It’s good now. I know, I’m still adapting too.)

Microsoft launched the new Bing, which is powered by artificial intelligence software from OpenAI, makers of the popular ChatGPT chatbot, to great fanfare at an event at the company’s headquarters on Tuesday. It was heralded as a landmark event — Microsoft’s “iPhone moment” — and many company executives, including its CEO, Satya Nadella, proudly walked around the conference center, chatting with reporters and showing off the company’s new products.

But the real star was Bing itself, or rather the artificial intelligence technology that was plugged into Bing to help answer users’ questions and chat with them on any subject imaginable. (Microsoft won’t say which version of OpenAI’s software is running under Bing, but it is rumored to be based on the yet-to-be-released GPT-4 language model.)

Microsoft, which first invested in OpenAI in 2019 and invested $10 billion again this year, is capitalizing on a wave of recent progress in AI capabilities to try to catch up with Google, which has long held the dominant position in the AI ​​market. searches. (And that, spooked by all the recent ChatGPT hype, it has released new AI tools of its own.) Microsoft plans to incorporate OpenAI technology into many of its products in the future.

But the relaunch of Bing is especially important for Microsoft, which has struggled to gain a foothold in Internet search for years. If it works, it could reduce Google’s dominance and some of its more than $100 billion in annual search advertising revenue. The new Bing, which is only available to a small group of testers and will become more widely accessible soon, looks like a hybrid of a standard search engine and a GPT-style chatbot. Type in a command – for example, “Write me a menu for a vegetarian dinner” – and the left side of the screen will be filled with the default ads and links to recipe sites. On the right side, Bing’s AI engine starts typing a response in full sentences, usually annotated with links to the websites it’s pulling information from.

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

I tested the new Bing for a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, and it’s a notable improvement over Google. It’s also an improvement over ChatGPT, which, despite its many features, was never designed to be used as a search engine. Does not cite sources and has trouble including up-to-date information or facts. So while ChatGPT can write a nice poem about baseball or compose an irritated email to your landlord, it’s less suited to telling you what happened in Ukraine last week or where to find a good meal in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Microsoft got around some of ChatGPT’s limitations by marrying OpenAI’s language features with Bing’s search function, using a proprietary tool called Prometheus. The technology basically works by extracting search terms from user requests, running those queries against Bing’s search index, and then using those search results in combination with its own language model to formulate a response. In both Microsoft’s demos and my own tests, Bing performed well on a wide variety of search-related tasks, including creating travel itineraries, gift ideas, book summaries, and movie plots.

Microsoft has also built OpenAI technology into Edge, its web browser, as a kind of super-powered writing assistant. Users can now open a dashboard in Edge, type in a general theme, and get an AI-generated paragraph, blog post, email, or a list of ideas written in one of five tones: professional, casual, informative, enthusiastic, or funny. They can paste this text directly into a web browser or social networking app.

Users can also talk to Edge’s built-in AI about any website they’re visiting and request summaries or additional information. In a stunning demo on Tuesday, a Microsoft executive logged onto the Gap website, opened a PDF file of the company’s latest quarterly financial results, and asked Edge to summarize key findings and create a table comparing the data with the results. latest financials from another clothing company, Lululemon. The AI ​​did both almost instantly.

The new Bing is far from perfect. Like ChatGPT, he tends to spout nonsense in a confident tone, and his responses can be erratic. When I presented him with a basic math puzzle—”If a dozen eggs cost 24 cents, how many eggs can you buy for a dollar?”—he got the wrong answer. (I said one hundred; the correct answer is 50.)

It also didn’t work out well when I asked for a list of activities for kids happening in my city next weekend. Among Bing’s suggestions were a Lunar New Year parade (which took place this past weekend), a local school fundraiser (which took place two weekends ago), and a Hanukkah celebration (which took place in mid- December).

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

For now, only one thing seems clear: after years of stagnation, Microsoft and OpenAI have made research interesting again.

After I deliver this column, I’m going to do something I thought I’d never do: I’m going to change my desktop computer’s default search engine to Bing. And Google, my default source of information throughout my adult life, is going to have to fight to bring me back.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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