Microsoft to add AI features to Bing and Edge in growing tech rivalry

08 Feb 2023 03:27pm
People will have access to the ChatGPT-esque chat function when using Edge, although Microsoft's version is "much more powerful," it claims. Photo - 123RF
People will have access to the ChatGPT-esque chat function when using Edge, although Microsoft's version is "much more powerful," it claims. Photo - 123RF

SEATTLE - Microsoft will add artificial intelligence (AI)-powered features, including chat, to its search engine, Bing, and its browser Edge, the software giant announced at a day-long event at its Redmond campus on Tuesday. The move signals the importance tech companies have recently placed on AI.

"It's a new day in search, it's a new paradigm for search, rapid innovation is going to come," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the event, reported German Press Agency (dpa).

The new features are powered by Microsoft's cloud computing platform, Azure, and OpenAI, a San Francisco-based startup that makes ChatGPT and other tools that write text and generate images through an AI engine. In January, Microsoft announced a multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment in OpenAI, which is the third stage of a four-year partnership with the startup that began with a US$1 billion investment.

With this technology, Bing will have a summary of search results in bullet points with annotations that track back to the original sources of information. The AI-powered engine is still in preview mode, currently allowed only to a few users and reporters. Users can join a waitlist to use the engine as it continues to develop and roll out in the next few weeks.

When doing a search, users will have access to a chat function similar to ChatGPT, though it is a proprietary engine. Users can ask questions and get answers from different sources of information on the internet, summarised in bullet points. From there, the chat can go as far as creating an email, LinkedIn post or travel itinerary if prompted by the user.

Edge will also provide people with the same summary version, for example, when comparing earnings statements from two different companies or products from different brands.

People will have access to the ChatGPT-esque chat function when using Edge, although Microsoft's version is "much more powerful," Microsoft vice president and chief marketing officer Yusuf Mehdi said.

The new Bing takes key learnings and advancements from ChatGPT and is even faster, more accurate and more capable, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. But Mehdi also said the engine is still being tested, so user feedback on the engine is helpful.

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OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said the AI models in Bing and Edge are the most advanced, and that the use of the technology will "improve productivity and day-to-day quality of life."

Bing has more than 10 million queries a day, Mehdi said. But the user experience is the same as 20 years ago and about half Bing users don't get the answers they were looking for when doing searches, Mehdi said.

The summarised information is the most up-to-date, but there is room for error because it is still a new feature in preview mode, said Microsoft's head of search and AI marketing Divya Kumar in an interview with The Seattle Times.

"We know we make mistakes because of how early in the journey we are at this point from a product standpoint," Kumar said.

The announcement represented a key to the future for Microsoft, which has recently faced tens of thousands of layoffs, a flop in its HoloLens technology and a pushback on its largest ever acquisition of video game company Activision Blizzard.

At the same time, this is not Microsoft's first introduction of AI to a product. The company introduced GitHub Copilot, an AI tool for developers, in 2021. It plans to phase AI in other products in the future as well, Kumar said.

"This is one of many in how Microsoft is thinking about bringing the value of AI to its customers," Kumar said.

Bing has largely trailed other engines, especially Google. The competition can now narrow with AI, Mehdi said, as Microsoft is well-positioned in the AI marketplace. If more users go to Bing for their searches, Microsoft can get more advertisers, Mehdi said.

Bing's business model is largely based on advertising revenue. Advertisers can pay the engine to make their websites appear more prominently in search results. But ads will not affect the AI-powered summarising and chat functions, Kumar said.

She added that instead of playing in the competition field, Microsoft is focusing on bringing value to consumers. People's "collection of experiences" on the Internet is "almost like you're the pilot, you're flying toward the destination and the AI capabilities are coming alongside. They're ready to help you," Kumar said.

Microsoft is a returning investor in OpenAI, and it is the sole cloud provider for the startup. Microsoft's investment in AI puts the tech giant in a strong position in the growing technology, but at a time when AI competition is brewing.

Last week, Google, which holds more than an 80 per cent share of the search market, announced a partnership with OpenAI's rival Anthropic. The deal gives Google a stake in Anthropic, but doesn't require the startup to spend the money buying cloud services from Google, according to Bloomberg.

On Monday, Google announced its own chatbot called "Bard." It is similar to ChatGPT but not related to Anthropic. Bard will be rolled out to a broader audience later this year, according to Google CEO Sundar Pinchai.

"A race starts today," CEO Nadella said.

"This technology will reshape pretty much every software category that we know." - BERNAMA