Microsoft's Bing Chat AI Search: The Future of Online Search

4 min read

Microsoft launched its ChatGPT-powered version of Bing last month in a limited beta, and it promptly brought a bunch of new viewers and some respect to the beleaguered search engine. Now, it appears that Microsoft has opened up the new Bing to nearly everyone who wants to use it, as Windows Central has noticed. While the signup page still says "join the waiting list," all you have to do is sign in to get instant access — a trick that worked for myself and a colleague. 

Microsoft has yet to confirm the change, but we may learn more at an event it's holding today called "Reinventing productivity with AI," as spotted by TechCrunch. The company is supposed to be introducing AI-powered tools for its Microsoft 365 suite and SalesForce rival Dynamic 365, but it may announce Bing changes as well.

Yesterday, Microsoft confirmed that the new Bing has been powered by the GPT-4 engine for the last five weeks, well before OpenAI unveiled it two days ago. OpenAI's latest language model (LLM) has taken the tech world by storm with its ability to handle both text and images. Some of its feats include passing simulated exams like the Bar and LSAT with a score "around the top 10 percent of test takers," and outperforming other LLMs in a variety of benchmark tests. 

Bing gives users a taste of GPT-4 without the need to pay for it or be a developer. The new search engine got off to be a bit of a shaky start, though, as up to 10 million users signed up to test it. Some were able to “jailbreak” the chatbot, making it spew false information and essentially gaslight users. That forced Microsoft to limit conversations, but it has subsequently removed some of those limits after strengthening the search engine's "guardrails."

Microsoft was an early backer of the company behind ChatGPT, Open AI, and strengthened that commitment in 2021 with $2 billion dollar investment. Early this year, it expanded the pact further with a "multibillion dollar" investment that includes new supercomputers to accelerate OpenAI's research. 

Microsoft was quick to limit Bing's AI chats to prevent disturbing answers, but it's changing course just days later. The company now says it will restore longer chats, and is starting by expanding the chats to six turns per session (up from five) and 60 chats per day (up from 50). The daily cap will climb to 100 chats soon, Microsoft says, and regular searches will no longer count against that total. With that said, don't expect to cause much havoc when long conversations return — Microsoft wants to bring them back "responsibly."

The tech giant is also addressing concerns that Bing's AI may be too wordy with responses. An upcoming test will let you choose a tone that's "precise" (that is, shorter and more to-the-point answers), "creative" (longer) or "balanced." If you're just interested in facts, you won't have to wade through as much text to get them.

There may have been signs of trouble considerably earlier. As Windows Central notes, researcher Dr. Gary Marcus and Nomic VP Ben Schmidt discovered that public tests of the Bing chatbot (codenamed "Sidney") in India four months ago produced similarly odd results in long sessions. We've asked Microsoft for comment, but it says in its most recent blog post that the current preview is meant to catch "atypical use cases" that don't manifest with internal tests.

Microsoft previously said it didn't completely anticipate people using Bing AI's longer chats as entertainment. The looser limits are an attempt to strike a balance between "feedback" in favor of those chats, as the company says, with safeguards that prevent the bot from going in strange directions.

John Von 2
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