Do you miss the days of Ask Jeeves, where you could ask your internet butler anything and have it completely misinterpret the question? Well, Microsoft’s wish.com-style Google tribute is returning to those good old days, only with significantly more usefulness via the magic of artificial intelligence.
Not only is Bing partnering with OpenAI to improve its search results, but the next release will include a large language model to generate real-time, detailed answers to your questions, no matter how niche and specific.
“There are 10 billion search queries a day, but we estimate half of them go unanswered,” explains Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi in a blog post. “That’s because people are using search to do things it wasn’t originally designed to do. It’s great for finding a website, but for more complex questions or tasks too often it falls short.”
Microsoft hopes its new AI will help, and you can play with some sample questions right now at Bing.com. Here’s an example cherry-picked from Microsoft:
The text will be generated on the fly from search results, all taped together and presented in a conversational style.
As you can see, certain sentences have a footnote so you can check what websites Bing is cribbing off, which is handy given the sheer quantity of nonsense that peppers the internet for AI chat models to learn from. Indeed, Microsoft has first-hand experience of this, given it once had to kill its chatbot Tay after it adopted the views of an old, racist uncle.
Of course, most people won’t click those links, which — if anybody used Bing — could pose an existential threat to the websites it parrots. If people don’t click through to the original source, then Microsoft keeps all the advertising marbles as traffic to the original sites dies on the vine.
Still, it’s Bing, right? Well yes… but Google has its own experiments in this area with Google Bard. “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,” Google writes. It’ll look something like this:
Should writers be worried? These examples are clearly cherry-picked and fact-checked to make sure they don’t advise drinking bleach or petting piranhas at the aquarium, so until it’s rolled out more widely it’s impossible to say how good the results will be. And that’s how it will live or die.
But as somebody who has taken to appending the word “reddit” to search queries when I want authentic answers that haven’t been SEOed to the nth degree, it’s pretty clear that search has to change somehow. The only question is whether what comes next will be even worse.