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    Microsoft and Google are about to start an AI battle

    Microsoft is about to take on Google in a battle for the future of search. At a press event later today, Microsoft is widely expected to outline plans to bring OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot to its Bing search engine. Google has already tried to avoid the news by making a hasty announcement yesterday to introduce Bard, its ChatGPT rival, and promising more details about its AI future at a press event on Wednesday.

    The announcements put the two tech giants, known for their previous skirmishes with each other, on a collision course as they battle to define the next generation of search.

    Both companies are chasing a revolutionary new future for search engines: one in which the results are more like short, simple answers generated by AI than a collection of links and boxes to click. Google teased its Bard chatbot yesterday, with questions similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. And today, Microsoft is expected to boost its Bing search ambitions with the addition of a ChatGPT-like interface that will answer questions in a way no search engine has done before.

    The more human answers could be revolutionary for search. ChatGPT – built by AI company OpenAI – brought conversational AI into the mainstream last year, and if the Bing integration works as intended, the use cases could really save hours on research, spreadsheets, coding, and much more.

    A screenshot of the homepage of Bing, Microsoft's search engine.  A banner reads:
    This could be Bing’s ChatGPT integration.
    Image: Owen Yin

    If a leak from last week is accurate, Microsoft may not only be close to demonstrating ChatGPT in Bing, but also close to making it publicly available for Bing users to test. It’s an ambitious move that, if executed properly, could put serious pressure on Google after years of dominance in search. While Microsoft’s rapid commercialization of OpenAI models will deter bitter rival Google, the main focus will be on Bing’s powerful chat functionality. Despite Google flexing its AI muscles for years, nothing has stunned the web quite like ChatGPT – even if it’s not perfect.

    Microsoft may have an edge over ChatGPT as we know it today. While ChatGPT is based on GPT-3.5, a major language model released last year, Bing’s chat functionality is rumored to be based on the as-yet unannounced GPT-4 model. The AI ​​community continues to collectively speculate on exactly how powerful GPT-4 will be, with several entertaining guesses about how many of the model’s parameters have been turned into memes.

    After Google initially took a cautious approach to a ChatGPT rival over fears of a “reputation risk,” a December report from The New York Times painted a picture of alarm bells going off at Google over ChatGPT’s success. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin reportedly offered advice to Google executives and pitched ideas at a level of renewed engagement we haven’t seen since the pair left their day jobs in 2019.

    Google’s answer is Bard, an AI chatbot built using Google’s LaMDA technology, which is similar to OpenAI’s GPT series of AI language models that help power ChatGPT. Google says it plans to open up access to its Bard chatbot more widely in the coming weeks.

    Google's ChatGPT competitor looks similar.

    Google’s ChatGPT competitor looks similar.
    Image: Google

    Google has also invested $300 million in an AI company, Anthropic, founded by former OpenAI researchers. Anthropic researches AI language models and has built its own rival to ChatGPT called Claude. Anthropic’s chatbot isn’t yet public, but the company recently revealed that Google Cloud is its “preferred cloud provider,” similar to how Microsoft OpenAI’s exclusive cloud provider is thanks to a multi-billion dollar investment.

    But Google isn’t going to sit back and let Microsoft take the spotlight on AI search easily, and judging by past skirmishes, it could end up being as ugly as the “Scroogled” era.

    Microsoft treated Google like a political adversary a decade ago, with newspaper ads exploiting privacy concerns, a parody video, and even anti-Google merchandise. At one point, Google even blocked a YouTube app developed by Microsoft for Windows Phone. The pair also came face-to-face with Google Maps suddenly not working on Windows Phone and Google’s decision to drop Gmail ActiveSync support, impacting the syncing of personal Gmail contacts and calendar items for new Windows Phone devices.

    It was clear even then that Google would do everything it could to prevent Microsoft from being successful in the mobile space, just as Microsoft would try to stop Google’s success with Chromebooks. It was a messy situation that wasn’t really resolved until Microsoft and Google struck an unusual truce in 2015. The pact was reportedly forged to avoid legal battles and complaints to regulators and to promote cooperation.

    The six-year ceasefire expired in April 2021, just a month after Google criticized Microsoft for trying to “break the way the open web works” in a row over Australian laws that would force Google to pay news publishers for their content. We hadn’t seen that level of animosity between the two companies since the Scroogled days, and Microsoft was even conspicuously silent during the 2020 US government antitrust case against Google, despite being the No. 2 search engine at the time.

    Microsoft has been teasing the importance of its OpenAI partnership lately, noting how important this moment is to the company’s AI ambitions. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says the company will turn AI models into the next big computing platform. “The next great wave of computing is being born as the Microsoft Cloud turns the world’s most advanced AI models into a new computing platform,” Nadella said in an earnings review last month. “We are committed to helping our customers use our platforms and tools to do more with less today and innovate for the future in the new era of AI.”

    AI will also have a major impact on Windows in the future as Microsoft prepares to integrate it into its own apps and services as well as its flagship operating system. “AI is literally going to reinvent how you do everything on Windows,” Panos Panay, Microsoft’s head of Windows and hardware, said at CES last month.

    Microsoft could take the opportunity today to tease exactly how AI will change the way we use Windows and perhaps the chip designs that will help Microsoft and OEMs use AI models in future versions of Windows. AMD’s new Ryzen 7000 mobile processors are the first x86 chips to include a dedicated AI engine capable of running Microsoft’s various AI-powered Windows Studio features. Intel also plans to bring AI capabilities to the PC Meteor Lake processors.

    Microsoft is also working hard on Azure OpenAI, the service that allows companies to integrate tools like DALL-E into their own cloud apps. Microsoft has promised that ChatGPT will soon be available on Azure OpenAI, sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans say The edge the company currently plans to release it later this month.

    How well Microsoft integrates OpenAI’s models into its own apps and services is crucial here. Missing the big mobile opportunity, Microsoft promised the world with Windows Phone, but never got to deliver. OpenAI could give Microsoft an early advantage in the upcoming AI battles, marking an important milestone today for Microsoft in demonstrating why its $10 billion investment will help the company lead the way in transformative technology the company believes will change “almost everything.”


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