OpenAI Fuels Microsoft Bing’s Race Reset in Search
I was in Redmond this week to witness what we might look back on as a turning point in tech. Microsoft’s CEO, Satay Nadella, took the stage to introduce the evolution of Bing and Edge. On the back of the newly renewed partnership with OpenAI, Microsoft took what it referred to as OpenAI’s newest artificial intelligence (AI) model – which is significantly more capable than what has been available to people up to now – and intertwined it with Bing search data. The new Bing uses ChatGPT’s foundational model to understand questions and generate answers based on the available data. This new version of Bing will enhance Microsoft Edge creating new experiences such as the ability to summarize documents and create content such as emails or blog posts, all in 140 languages that are supported out of the gate. Microsoft was referring to this as the Edge copilot. The new Bing went live right after the keynote in a limited preview and will roll out to millions of users in the coming weeks. If interested, you can sign up for the waitlist.
Many people wondered how ChatGPT, whose current foundational model relies on a fixed data set, could be used for search, requiring dynamic and current information. The answer is that Microsoft is using ChatGPT to enhance the user experience by allowing them to ask questions conversationally and refine them through a chat-like feature. It also uses OpenAI models to present the answers in a rich and organized way. But the source of the answers is the up-to-date information that Bing collects.
Why start with Search?
According to Microsoft, half of the questions users are asking go unanswered. This is mostly because of the mismatch between how the answer is asked and how the search engine interprets the question. This means there is an opportunity to delight users.
There is also the fact that Microsoft wants to grab search market share from Google, and its underdog position allows for more freedom to disrupt the category. Microsoft knows all too well how difficult it is to change when you have millions of users depending on your technology and, let’s be honest, set in their ways. Remember the start button in Windows? In this case, Google is in this position, not with users but with advertisers. Changing the underlying model of search has significant implications for ads. When searching for a product, users now see a traditional results page and a sidebar that offers a pre-digested set of data, all organized and summarized for the user. Microsoft provides links and references to where the information is coming from, and it is easy for the user to click on it. But, over time, as we get more confident that the information we receive is best tailored to our needs, we will click less and less.
From a user perspective, there is also very little emotional attachment to search as a service and a huge opportunity to delight. We all know that Bing and Edge are just the starting point for Microsoft. The power Microsoft has is to tie in all its Microsoft 365 assets that millions of users rely on daily. So, delighting with Bing and Edge today will make users want more and even be prepared to change their workflows because they know they will have a guaranteed return on investment.
Going into the event, I was convinced that, if the rumors were true, this would have been the perfect moment for Microsoft to rebrand Bing. I had the opportunity to ask Yusuf Mehdi, Corporate VP and Consumer Chief Marketing Officer at Microsoft, why they didn’t. Aside from saying that they love the brand, of course, he pointed out that sentiment for Bing is actually neutral, not negative. More importantly, he explained that this investment is about evolving search, not starting new. The more I thought about it, the more I thought Mehdi was right. Beginning with a new brand would signal there is something fundamentally wrong with Bing, which is certainly not the case. If Microsoft delivers on this initial promise also makes for a great success story for the company.
Beyond the Tech
As I write, Google is holding an event in Paris to show more about the recently announced Bard and its approach to AI-powered search. So, it would be irresponsible to already talk about winners and losers. Both companies have strengths and weaknesses in their relationship with consumers. Microsoft will continue to serve users better for productivity, linking business and personal. Google has more “out in the world” data because of maps and Android. So, search, like mobile, might actually end up with two companies serving a large enough base to make it profitable to their business and valuable to the users.
Features and services aside, there is something else that will determine users’ usage and engagement in this new world of search: trust. As I pointed out earlier, more and more of the information users will be provided with will be based on pre-packaged information that I need to trust as a user. As our data has clearly demonstrated in the past, consumers trust Microsoft more than they do Google. The big focus at this week’s event on responsible AI, the efforts in addressing inclusion and access from the start, and the guardrails that Microsoft has put in place with its Responsible AI Council and the Environmental, Social, and Public Policy Committee only help to grow that trust.
Another component of the success of this new AI-driven world will be the ability to change people’s mindset around the role AI plays in both the workplace and education. Microsoft has become a great storyteller in many areas, from the future of work to ethics, and it must be showing people how to take advantage of these new tools. As Brad Smith said in his blog and during the panel at the event, “this is the time to be curious, not judgmental.” Sadly, we have seen more resistance to the impact that ChatGPT technology will have than curiosity.
I am going to leave you with what the new Bing thinks about this move:
The new Bing is a bold move by Microsoft to reinvent search and challenge Google’s supremacy. It is also a showcase of the potential of AI to transform how we interact with information and create content. Whether the new Bing will succeed in attracting and satisfying users remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: Microsoft is not giving up on search, and it is willing to use the most cutting-edge technology to make it better.