Remember Bing? With ChatGPT's Help, Microsoft Is Coming for Google Search

The future of search is conversational, if ChatGPT's viral success is anything to go by.

Sareena Dayaram Senior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
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Sareena Dayaram
7 min read
ChatGPT chatbot
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Have you ever found yourself trawling through endless pages of results on a search engine to find the answer to a complex question? Say you want to find out if a vegetarian diet is suitable for your dog. Your research journey might begin by hopping onto Google and typing "is a veg diet good for dogs" into the search box and then having to make sense of the legion of generated links. By the time you find an answer, you've sunk way more time than you'd budgeted into poring through articles, reports and their sources. 

In the not-so-distant future, finding the answer to a complex question might not be such a tedious process. Microsoft is reportedly integrating a more advanced version (GPT-4) of the AI tech that underlies the headline-grabbing ChatGPT into its Bing search engine in a move that could transform search as we know it. More specifically, Bing might have the potential to serve up a search experience that's superior to Google, according to AI researchers, and potentially usurp the search giant's decades-long dominance.

"ChatGPT is the first technology in more than a decade that may really transform search and that could, at least in principle, upend Google's market dominance," said Anton Korinek, an AI researcher and professor of economics, at the University of Virginia. "What the technology does is that it allows consumers to interact with their computer in a much more natural and conversational form than traditional search."

Read More: Why ChatGPT Will Be Everywhere in 2023

At this point, we don't know what Bing's AI-driven search results might look like exactly (although some people have seen the new version of Bing appear briefly before vanishing). Microsoft declined to comment for this story. However, AI researchers expect a meaningful departure from the status quo in terms of how a search engine presents an answer and how users interact with it. After all, ChatGPT is not designed to browse the internet for information (like a search engine). Instead, the chatbot uses information studied from vast swaths of training data to generate a response.

"ChatGPT can answer its users with a single clear response compared to the myriads of links of traditional search engines. It also has capabilities that are far beyond traditional search engines, like [the ability] to generate new text, explain concepts, have a back-and-forth conversation between the user and the system, and so on," said Korinek. "People still find emergent capabilities that even the creators of ChatGPT were not aware that the system had." 

Microsoft announced plans in January to invest more resources into OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, to the tune of $10 billion. The deal would help keep both companies at the cutting edge of what's known as generative AI, a tech used in ChatGPT that can learn from copious amounts of data to create virtually any content format (text, images, music and so on) simply from a text prompt. 

Search is just one in a suite of consumer-facing products in Microsoft's stable that could potentially change meaningfully for customers in the coming years. According to a report by The Information, the Seattle-based tech giant also has plans to integrate ChatGPT's AI tech into long-established products like Word, PowerPoint and Outlook in an endeavor that could change how more than a billion people work and accomplish daily tasks. For instance, integrating it into Outlook could mean simply prompting the email application to write a message about a specific topic. 

"Microsoft will deploy OpenAI's models across our consumer and enterprise products and introduce new categories of digital experiences built on OpenAI's technology," the company said in a press release announcing the expanded partnership.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman at the Microsoft campus

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, in July 2019. 

Scott Eklund

Conversational search

For its part, Google and its cutting-edge subunit DeepMind have been working on similar systems for years. In fact, Google pioneered the AI technology known as a transformer that's used in ChatGPT, GPT-3 and GPT-2. The search giant chose not to release them to the public, though, in part over concerns about unethical behavior and how chat systems sometimes break social norms. 

However, in the wake of ChatGPT's viral success, Google says it's gearing up to release its challenger to ChatGPT imminently.

"In the coming weeks and months, we'll make these language models available, starting with LaMDA, so that people can engage directly with them," CEO Sundar Pichai said on a call detailing Alphabet's fourth-quarter financial results in early February.

Google will focus on responsible AI, Pichai said, an important point given the problems with bias and wrong answers the technology can produce, among others. For instance, in 2016 Microsoft created a chatbot called Tay that it was forced to take offline after it spewed out hate speech. Even ChatGPT, which has rules to create positive and friendly content, can be manipulated into producing upsetting responses using the right prompts.

Google has also recently invested $300 million dollars into ChatGPT rival Anthropic, according to a Financial Times report.

"A competing system that is currently conducting beta tests is Anthropic's Claude, which (or perhaps I should say who) has a very different personality from ChatGPT and is really a pleasure to interact with — it is so refined, cultured and polite," said Korinek.

It's no secret that Google search has become more conversational in general over the years. The company has made progress in this area with the Google assistant and with knowledge panels in search, and for years has pitched conversation as the future of search, demoing its AI systems LaMDA and MUM at its 2021 I/O developer conference. 

Leveraging OpenAI's artificial intelligence seems to be how Microsoft is attempting to edge out Google at its own game. In the wake of ChatGPT's release, Google management issued a "code red," according to The New York Times. The report said internal teams had been reassigned to kickstart work on AI between now and an expected company conference in May. 

Still, Google's search engine today remains the undisputed market leader as it has for decades, commanding 84% of global search market share, compared to Bing's 9% (although it has grown in recent years) in 2022, according to Statista.  

Google declined to comment for this story.

Read More: Microsoft's New Tools Use AI to Generate Any Image You Imagine

A cardboard craft-style open laptop with a chatty robot on the screen.

Chatbots got a lot more complex with OpenAI's ChatGPT tool.

Carol Yepes / Getty Images

How smart is ChatGPT?

As you've probably heard by now, ChatGPT is a sophisticated chatbot that went viral globally after its consumer release in late November as a free online tool accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The AI-powered chatbot made headlines thanks in part to its ability to churn out delightful poetry, generate meal plans and provide authoritative answers to complex questions within seconds after being prompted. The tech underlying it isn't exactly brand new, but no chatbot had yet managed to capture mainstream fascination in the way that ChatGPT did. That's largely because OpenAI built a snazzy user experience around the GPT-3.5 language model, and that's the phenomenon we know as ChatGPT. 

GPT-3.5 is an improved version of GPT-3, which debuted in 2020 and which learned from vast tracts of data and code to help it achieve its abilities. According to researchers at Stanford University, GPT-3 was trained on 570 gigabytes of text and has 175 billion parameters. (Google's Dale Markowitz, meanwhile, put it at 45 terabytes of text data, "including almost all of the public web.") For comparison, its predecessor, GPT-2, was over 100 times smaller, at 1.5 billion parameters. 

"This increase in scale drastically changes the behavior of the model — GPT-3 is able to perform tasks it was not explicitly trained on, like translating sentences from English to French, with few to no training examples. This behavior was mostly absent in GPT-2," researchers from Stanford's Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence wrote in a 2021 post.

"The current version of ChatGPT probably already knows more about the world than any individual human, and it can present that knowledge in digestible form," said Korinek.

For all the promise ChatGPT holds, there are nearly as many limitations. Critics of ChatGPT say it's not always clear where the chatbot is pulling information from, which can make it difficult for people to trust the results. Skeptics also point out that ChatGPT will always remain undermined by the imperfect nature of the data it was trained on, including biased information or misinformation. 

OpenAI has acknowledged the chatbot's weaknesses in its current form. CEO Sam Altman said in a December post on Twitter that the product struggles with "robustness and truthfulness" and that it would be "a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now."

But don't look for the AI bandwagon to slow down.

"There will be a number of new systems like ChatGPT that will enter the market in 2023, and the main implication of the resulting competition is that consumers will have more choice and, hopefully, better products for consumers," added Korinek.

GPT-4, which is under development, is reported to have 100 trillion parameters. But a release is not expected to take place until OpenAI is "confident we can [release] it safely and responsibly," Altman said in an interview with StrictlyVC in early January. 

Altman also attempted to manage expectations of that fourth iteration of GPT, the sophisticated language model that underpins ChatGPT, saying "we don't have AGI." AGI stands for artificial general intelligence, or a technology with its own emergent intelligence as opposed to relying on the deep learning models currently used by OpenAI. It's the kind of intelligence that has been dramatized in science fiction stories for more than a century and was popularized in recent years by the award-winning dystopian show Westworld. 

"I think [AGI] is sort of what is expected of us," Altman said in the same interview, adding that GPT-4 is "going to disappoint" people who hold out that hope.

Editors' note: CNET is using an AI engine to create some personal finance explainers that are edited and fact-checked by our editors. For more, see this post.