The rise of the post-search internet with Bing AI

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  • In a post I wrote a year or so ago, I discussed how people were becoming increasingly frustrated with Google Search as automated summaries, sponsored content, and S.E.O.-tailored junk began to displace the kinds of helpful Web site results that Searching was supposed to yield. In contrast to helping us find the information we were looking for (in my case, the elusive perfect toaster at the moment), Google’s search algorithm was instead inundating us with the shoddy suggestions of content mills. Nonetheless, Google Search has kept up its dominance partly due of habit and partially because no other service has yet to present a strong alternative.

On February 7th, Microsoft started testing a chatbot version of its Bing search engine that uses GPT-4, the most recent version of OpenAI’s ChatGPT big language model. The new Bing can simply produce its own answers to each question, rather than sending consumers to other websites. With good reason, Google views the tool as posing an existential danger to its primary business. The Times reported at the end of the previous year that the business had issued a “code red.” We’re in a post-search experience, said Liz Danzico, Microsoft’s vice president of design, who worked on creating the Bing A.I. interface.

I just had the opportunity to test-drive Bing A.I., which is simply ChatGPT connected to Microsoft’s search directory. Using it is similar to conversing with an extremely strong librarian whose domain spans the entire Internet. For modern Internet users, the traditional search process is nearly automatic: type relevant keywords into Google, click Enter, and sort through the list of links that appear on the results page. To discover the information you’re looking for, click through. If you still can’t find anything, perhaps go back to the Google Search page and change your term suggestions.

With Bing A.I., websites serve as the source of information rather than the final destination, and user and bot collaboration is used to create results, according to Danzico. Bing A.I. sorts through the flood of web information for you by aggregating the aggregators and recapping the recappers. When I asked it to compile a list of more recommendations, it gathered ones from publications like The Kitchn, Forbes, and The Spruce Eats. When I asked it which toaster Wirecutter recommended, it responded with the Cuisinart CPT-122 2-Slice Compact Plastic Toaster. Without ever leaving the Bing A.I. page, it took me only a few seconds to get a quick summary of reliable gadgets. But, the chatbot was unable to provide me with accurate purchasing advice.

Yet, in other ways, the Bing user is more constrained and passive, encouraged to defer to the computer’s judgment of which information is valuable rather than conducting independent searches. It serves as your bank, confidante, travel companion, and advisor, according to Danzico. This one-stop shopping goal is reflected in the “conversation mode” interface, which consists of a single chat bubble on top of a soft colour gradient. Using Bing A.I. is somewhat like a series of text-message dialogues as opposed to using Google Search, which can occasionally feel like creating the appropriate equation to solve a problem. It even ends responses with a blushing, smiling emoji, saying, “I’m always glad to communicate with you.,” when I asked it a question. There is a “new topic” button to the left of the chat box, which depicts a broom sweeping.

A Bing A.I. user has greater control than a Google Search user in several areas. Speaking to the chatbot requires “learning not to speak the search of twenty years ago,” according to Sarah Mody, a senior product marketing manager at Microsoft. By asking the computer follow-up questions, you can narrow or refine the results of your query and avoid using isolated keywords. For example, if you ask for an itinerary for a trip to Iceland and then follow it up with, “What time does the sun set there?” the bot will know which “there” you’re referring to.

Although though technologies like Bing A.I. offer customers an extreme level of almost unfathomable convenience, they are likely to be worse for content producers than the search engines and social media platforms that have taken the majority of the money spent on digital advertising over the previous ten years. In the form of footnotes that link to Links, Bing A.I. does provide recommendations for websites. Yet in order to reduce for users what one Microsoft employee described to me as the “cognitive load” of needing to click on and scroll through links, the URLs are purposefully invisible. Mody gave a video chat demonstration of how to ask Bing AI to find a tasty vegetarian recipe the other day.

The bot retrieved a vegetarian lasagna recipe from Bon Appétit (Condé Nast also owns The New Yorker) and pasted it verbatim into the chat. Then Mody requested something that no cooking website could possibly deliver: a list of all the ingredients arranged by grocery store aisle.

As we wait, non-automated writing on the internet will resemble an artisanal commodity that we seek out for its pure quality: “natural language” as opposed to “natural wine.” Google revealed the availability of its own AI chatbot on Tuesday. Dubbed Bard—a more evocative and lofty moniker than Microsoft’s prosaic “A.I.-powered copilot”—it amounts to a broadside in the A.I. arms race among computer titans. Yet Google has purposefully separated the chatbot from its flagship product. One firm official told the Times, “We think of Bard as complementary to Google Search. It’s a covert admission that artificial intelligence poses a danger to the business’s current business model. Google needs to be careful not to eat itself in the process of catching up to Microsoft. But Bing is gleefully leading us into the post-search era.

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