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Microsoft will use ChatGPT in its search service Bing

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Remember Bing? Before you Google it, it's the search engine that Microsoft released more than a decade ago. And for most of that time, it's been overshadowed by Google. Well, today, Microsoft announced it's overhauling Bing to incorporate artificial intelligence. Executives hope that'll help it unseat Google and become the top search engine of the future. Bobby Allyn was there for the big announcement at Microsoft's headquarters.

And, Bobby, tell us more about what you learned today.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Yeah. We learned that Microsoft is staking its future on AI. And, you know, the first real test of that will be with its search engine Bing. Soon, people who use Bing will be able to use a tool that's sort of like talking to a real human. It's a service powered by ChatGPT. That's the chat bot that's really taken the internet by storm in recent months.

Executives showed off how this would work. OK, so say you want to plan a five-day vacation to Mexico with the new service, right? You can instantly have a five-day itinerary for your trip. Want to research a Japanese poet? This AI tool not only gives you basic information but analyzes multiple sources at once in a box that appears to the right of your search with annotations and links. You know, Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, called this a new day for search, and he said the race is on.

SHAPIRO: But Google has the lead in this race. So how much of a threat is this to them, really?

ALLYN: Yeah. This really represents a serious threat to Google, I think. In fact, inside the company, executives have launched an effort dubbed code red, specifically aimed at countering the popularity of ChatGPT. And just yesterday, we saw Google announced an AI-powered search engine called Bard that it hopes will rival Microsoft's effort. Now, look, it is going to take a lot to unseat Google. About, you know, 90% of online searches are Google searches. They are the entrenched incumbent here, but they're also lagging behind when it comes to a publicly available AI tools. So some analysts say Microsoft being out front here could start really chipping away at Google's dominance.

Now, worth pointing out that Microsoft did not invent ChatGPT, right? A San Francisco research lab known as OpenAI developed it, but then Microsoft got really excited about it and has been investing billions. So now the two companies, OpenAI and Microsoft, are just really intertwined right now.

SHAPIRO: So if the future of internet search is tied to AI, what pitfalls does that bring? What are the risks?

ALLYN: Yeah. There are a lot of risks, Ari. I mean, anyone who has used ChatGPT has run up against the limitations pretty quickly, right? When you ask it a question, it can do what's known as hallucinating, or confidently stating things that are just straight-up made up. That's obviously concerning. And if AI's the new engine behind how people search the internet, you could just imagine how things could go sideways pretty fast, especially when you're looking up information about subjects rife with misinformation, like elections, vaccines, violent encounters with law enforcement and so on.

You know, after the executives gave us presentations, I and other reporters were allowed to try out the new Bing with Microsoft project managers. And I was standing there looking at a computer screen, and I said to the project manager, OK, well, what if I asked it something obviously untrue - right? - if the 2020 election was stolen. And the project manager demurred and said, no, we're not ready to show how it handles what she called sensitive questions. So to me, Ari, that said everything, right? Microsoft is making this big announcement today about its AI search engine, but it's also not done with its guardrails. And how good those guardrails are I think will be a pretty big factor in just how successful an AI-powered Bing is.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Bobby Allyn.

Thanks a lot.

ALLYN: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
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