Microsoft may have ushered in a paradigm shift Tuesday with the release of new versions of its search engine, Bing, and web browser, Edge — both now powered by artificial intelligence.
The new offerings, available in preview at Bing.com, combine browsing and chat into a unified experience that improves both tasks. When searching, for example, more relevant results are displayed, and for information like sports scores, stock prices, and weather forecasts, results may appear without leaving a search page.
For more complex queries — such as “what can I substitute for eggs when baking a cake” — Bing can synthesize an answer from many online sources and present a summary response.
Searchers can also chat with Bing to further refine a search and use it to help create content, such as travel itineraries or a quiz for trivia night.
The Edge browser, in addition to getting a facelift, also has AI functions for chatting and creating content. You can ask it to summarize lengthy reports, reducing them to key takeaways, or create a LinkedIn post from a few prompts.
“AI will fundamentally change every software category, starting with the largest category of all — search,” Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO of Microsoft, said in a statement.
When you integrate AI with search, you can get the best of both worlds, observed Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis Research, a technology market research and consulting firm in Foster City, Calif.
“You can have the timeliness of a search index and the intelligence of a natural language-based chat and summary tool,” O’Donnell told TechNewsWorld.
This video demonstrates the new Bing chat experience:
“What they’re doing is finally making computers smart,” he explained. “It enables them to deliver what’s meant, not what’s necessarily said. “
“It’s going to take people some time to get used to it, but it is dramatically better,” he said. “Its time-saving and efficiency is off the charts.”
“I think we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift,” he added.
Ross Rubin, the principal analyst with Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City, pointed out that bringing AI to Bing is just the tip of a larger Microsoft strategy.
“It’s not just about Bing, which is low-hanging fruit for integration,” Rubin told TechNewsWorld. “They’re looking to integrate AI into a lot of their products — Office, Teams, Azure.”
“It may help Bing in its long-standing competition with Google, but it’s really about much more than that,” he said. “They would not have made this level of investment if it were just about making Bing more effective.”
Microsoft’s action comes on the heels of an announcement Monday by Google that it was bringing to a group of “trusted testers” an AI conversational service called Bard. Bard is based on Google’s natural language technology, LaMDA. Microsoft is using OpenAI technology in its offering.
Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence, and creativity of our large language models, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a company blog. It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses.
He explained that Bard will be initially released with a lightweight model version of LaMDA. This much smaller model requires significantly less computing power, enabling us to scale to more users and allowing for more feedback.
We’ll combine external feedback with our own internal testing to make sure Bard’s responses meet a high bar for quality, safety, and groundedness in real-world information, he added.
Pichai wrote that when people think of Google, they often think of quick factual answers, like “how many keys does a piano have?” But increasingly, people are turning to Google for deeper insights and understanding — like, “is the piano or guitar easier to learn, and how much practice does each need?”
AI can be helpful in these moments, synthesizing insights for questions where there’s no one right answer, he continued. Soon, you’ll see AI-powered features in search that distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats, so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more from the web: whether that’s seeking out additional perspectives, like blogs from people who play both piano and guitar, or going deeper on a related topic, like steps to get started as a beginner.
Pichai added that these new AI features will begin rolling out on Google Search soon.
Leg Up on Leader
The question is, will “soon” be too late?
“All of a sudden, the Microsoft search product is going to be substantially better than the Google offering,” observed Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group, an advisory services firm in Bend, Ore.
“We’ll see how many people start switching,” Enderle told Tech reporters. “The switching costs between Bing and Google are non-existent. With switching costs so low, the question will be how many people switch to Bing and how bad a hit will Google take?”
“It’s going to take Google time to catch up,” he said. “Meanwhile, people will be establishing habit patterns with Bing, and if people become happy with Bing, why go back to Google?”
“This appears to be a well-executed, deep strategy to take the fight to Google, and Google, for whatever reason, was not adequately prepared,” he added.
Incorporating AI into search gives Microsoft a leg up on Google, maintained Ed Anderson, research vice president and analyst at Gartner, a research and advisory company based in Stamford, Conn.
“Microsoft beat Google to the punch in terms of bringing AI-assisted search to Bing and Edge,” Anderson told TechNewsWorld. “How close Google is doing that with its search engine and browser remains to be seen.”
Rewriting Search Rules
O’Donnell believes the new Bing may make some headway against Google for search eyeballs. “It’s the kind of thing that once you’ve tried doing searches with this new type of engine, it’s going to be hard to go back to the old one. It’s that much better,” he said.
“Microsoft is trying to rewrite the rules of the game,” Rubin added. “What’s at risk is not only Google’s search leadership, but its revenue model. Displacing search with an engine that can provide answers without redirecting you somewhere will require the whole search revenue model to be rethought.”
However, Greg Sterling, co-founder of Near Media, a news, commentary, and analysis website, pointed out that not only has Google a wealth of experience in AI, but it has extensive resources that it has created for search over the years.
“What Microsoft revealed is impressive, but it needs to be much better than what Google shows up with in order for them to capture more usage,” Sterling told TechNewsWorld. “It can’t just be slightly better. It has to be much better.”
“There’s an opportunity here because of concerns about privacy and the quality of search results and ads on the user interface,” he added. “There’s an opening, but Microsoft needs to exploit those variables. It remains to be seen if they can do that.”