What’s the deal with Microsoft’s AI-powered Bing search engine?

2022 was truly the year of artificial intelligence.

What’s the deal with Microsoft’s AI-powered Bing search engine?
A view shows a Microsoft logo at Microsoft France headquarters in Issy-les-Moulineaux near Paris, France, January 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The backstory: 2022 was truly the year of artificial intelligence. Last November, OpenAI’s AI bot ChatGPT went viral, and everyone was amazed by how it could respond to text-based prompts with logic. Now, the race to develop newer and better AI-based services is on in the tech world, and 2023 is shaping up to be another big year for AI tech.

More recently: At the end of January, Microsoft invested US$10 billion into OpenAI. It’s been looking to use AI to enhance a lot of its services like Office Suite and its cloud, search engine and programming tools. But tech giant Alphabet (which runs Google) wasn’t as prepared for the AI boom. The frenzy caused by ChatGPT seemed to cause some panic for the company as it worried how this AI trend might affect its own search engine.

Last week, both Google and Bing announced new AI features. Google introduced its competitor to ChatGPT, Bard, an “experimental conversational AI service.” And Microsoft announced its own plans to integrate AI into Bing.

The development: With Bing’s new AI-boosted search engine powered by OpenAI tech, it’s finally posing some competition for Google, which dominates the search engine market. More than a million people have already signed up for this version of Bing. When it comes to basic search phrases, Google and Bing are pretty comparable, but for more complex questions, this new Bing might pull ahead of Google. While Microsoft is already an extremely profitable company, this boost in popularity could be another goldmine. For every percentage point Microsoft gains in search ads, it will scoop up US$2 billion in new revenue. While the full version is only open to a small beta group of testers, AI-powered Bing will be more widely available in the near future – but so will Bard. In the meantime, you can test out a limited preview online.

Key comments:

“With any new technology, you don’t perfectly forecast all of the issues and mitigations,” Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, said in an interview last week. “But if you run a very tight feedback loop, at the rate things are evolving, I think we can get to very solid products very fast.”

The new Bing page includes the warning: “Let’s learn together. Bing is powered by AI, so surprises and mistakes are possible. Make sure to check the facts, and share feedback so we can learn and improve!”

“New technologies always come with new risks and we as a society will have to address them, such as implementing acceptable use policies and educating the general public about how to use them properly. Guidelines will be needed,” said Bern Elliot, an analyst at the consulting company Gartner.