Microsoft today unveiled a new AI-powered Edge browser and Bing search engine with a “chat” functionality.
The new search engine allows users to ask questions and receive answers from GPT-4, the latest version of the artificial intelligence (AI) language model built by research lab OpenAI. The new, AI-powered search engine and Edge browser are available in preview now at Bing.com.
The announcement highlighted Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI, the research venture that created ChatGPT, a chatbot that can generate natural language, essay-like answers to user-submitted text questions. The new AI-powered search capability will generate answers similar to how ChatGPT does, the company said.
For example, the revamped Bing search engine and web browser will be able to answer questions such as, “Plan a week-long trip to Paris” and produce an itinerary based on information scraped from the internet, according to CNBC. Then, a user can follow the question up by asking something something like, “How much will it cost?"
Microsoft also updated Edge with AI capabilities and a new look and added two new functionalities: Chat and compose. With the Edge Sidebar, a user can ask for a summary of a lengthy financial report to get the key takeaways — and then use the chat function to ask for a comparison with a competing company’s financials and have the data automatically put in a table.
A user can also ask Edge to help compose content, such as a LinkedIn post, by giving it a few prompts to get started. After that, it can be used to update the tone, format and length of the post. "Edge can understand the web page you’re on and adapts accordingly," Microsoft said.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said AI is “going to reshape the largest software category on planet Earth, which I’ve been working on for a long time and which we are very excited about — search. It’s a new day in search, it’s a new paradigm for search, rapid innovation is going to come.”
Along with more in-depth answers to user questions, the new GPT-4-powered Bing will offer interactive chat.
“The chat experience empowers you to refine your search until you get the complete answer you are looking for by asking for more details, clarity and ideas — with links available so you can immediately act on your decisions,” Microsoft said.
The company also said it has taken steps "together with OpenAI" to implement safeguards to defend against harmful content, such as misinformation and disinformation and to prevent the promotion of harmful or discriminatory content in line with its AI principles.
Except for gaming, Microsoft has not been a leader in key consumer technologies such as search, mobile and social media, according to Jason Wong, a distinguished vice president and software design and development analyst with Gartner Research.
“The early mover advantage afforded to Microsoft with their exclusive OpenAI partnership should open up more disruptive opportunities in its consumer technologies business through AI as an assistive technology, more than a replacement technology,” Wong said in an email reply to Computerworld.
Given that most Microsoft products are aimed at businesses and large enterprises, Wong said most of its customers will be “a bit more conservative in using the generative AI capabilities”.
“Microsoft really needs to showcase well-thought-out patterns and help its customers with training and up-skilling business users to properly take advantage of AI,” he said.
Microsoft is far from alone in pursuing new AI capabilities. Google, for example, plans to make an announcement tomorrow regarding an upgrade to its search engine’s capabilities.
Google announced a partnership and strategic stake in a competitor to OpenAI and has launched its own chatbot called Bard. Bard is an experimental, conversational AI service that Google said is powered by a technology called Language Model for Dialogue Applications (or LaMDA for short).
Google opened up Bard to beta testers this week “ahead of making it more widely available to the public in the coming weeks.
“We're reimagining how people search for, explore and interact with information, making it more natural and intuitive than ever before to find what you need," Google said in an announcement posted on YouTube. "Join us to learn how we're opening up greater access to information for people everywhere, through Search, Maps and beyond."
Wong said Google was caught off guard by the success of ChatGPT, which reached one million users in only 5 days.
“You can draw the parallels to the launch of the Netscape browser and Microsoft being caught off-guard. Microsoft in turn partnered with a small vendor and eventually launched Internet Explorer,” Wong said. “Google has the advantage currently over Microsoft in the consumer technologies business, while Microsoft has the edge in the business technologies markets. We will likely see each play from their respective strengths.”
Gartner predicts that by 2025, the market for AI software will reach almost US$134.8 billion. Over the next five years, market growth will accelerate from 14.4 per cent in 2021 to 31.1 per cent in 2025, considerably outpacing the overall growth in the software market.
OpenAI is a San Francisco-based artificial intelligence research lab that opened in 2015 with the backing of big-name technology players such as Elon Musk, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Infosys, YC Research and investor/entrepreneur Sam Altman. Altman became the CEO of OpenAI in 2019, the same year the company went public.
The group of initial investors pledged more than US$1 billion for the venture, which has so far yielded five AI-based products, the best known of which is ChatGPT.
Launched in November 2022, the chatbot application answers users' text questions by writing essays. The answers are generated by information on the internet related to any question and then composed in conversational prose.
In 2019, Microsoft invested US$1 billion in OpenAI as part of a partnership to bolster AI's development and adoption. San Francisco-based OpenAI believes its technology has widely distributed economic benefits.
Microsoft said in its 2019 announcement that the companies would focus on building a computational platform in Azure of “unprecedented scale, which will train and run increasingly advanced AI models.”
Last month, multiple reports indicated Microsoft is planning to invest US$10 billion in OpenAI. Later in January, Microsoft teased today's announcement, saying it planned to deploy its AI model “across our consumer and enterprise products and introduce new categories of digital experiences built on OpenAI’s technology.”