Microsoft kickstarts the AI arms race

The relaunched Bing does research, writes emails, and just might hit Google where it hurts

Microsoft kickstarts the AI arms race

REDMOND, WA — In the end, it might not matter who moved first. The first round of search engine wars saw several entrants rise and fall before one emerged as the victor, and Google undoubtedly benefited from watching all the mistakes that Yahoo, Infoseek and all the rest made along the way.

At the same time, as I interviewed executives and watched presentations about the next generation of Bing on Tuesday, I was struck by the once-in-a-generation opportunity Microsoft may now have to shift consumer behavior. In December, running my first few queries on ChatGPT, I argued that the technology almost certainly represents the future of search.

Today, barely two months later, the future arrived in a browser on my desktop computer.

"It's a new day in search,” Satya Nadella told reporters as the day begun. “It's a new paradigm for search. Rapid innovation is going to come. The race starts today."

There was an exultant quality to Microsoft executives’ remarks on Tuesday, as they walked through how the company’s partnership with the insurgent San Francisco firm OpenAI would allow it to offer an improved version of its hit demo ChatGPT at scale.

Using the reimagined Bing on stage, a top marketing executive at the company planned a five-day trip to Mexico City, identified the best 65” television, and then refined his query to find the best 65” TV for gaming. He generated a list of history’s top Japanese poets, augmented with sample haikus, and then put together a quiz about music in the 1990s.

All of this he did more or less instantly, with the fluidity that is now familiar to users of ChatGPT, but bolstered by the knowledge that soon this tool would be available to the masses, and for free. (Microsoft said there will be unspecified limits on the number of queries users can run, at least at launch, but for the moment does not have plans to charge a subscription the way OpenAI has.)

Demonstrations like these often inspire hyperbole on the part of tech company presenters, but Microsoft executives seemed sincerely wowed by what they had managed to build. Sarah Bird, the company’s responsible AI lead, said of the new Bing: “It's the most exciting and powerful technology I have ever touched.”