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Microsoft announced a major expansion of its artificial intelligence-based search tools today, opening up new features that allow visual and multimodal searches as well as persistent chat tools. The updates significantly expand the capabilities of Bing, the company’s search engine, and Edge, its web browser.
Only select users have been able to test the new AI search features in a limited preview over the last three months. But the company announced today it is now moving Bing and Edge into an open preview, allowing anyone to test the new tools by signing in with a Microsoft account. The move suggests Microsoft believes the new features are ready for wider use and feedback.
“It’s exciting because it means the new Bing is now more quickly accessible to anyone who wants to try it, which also means that we can engage and get a greater volume of signals from anyone else who wants to try the experience. With a higher volume of data, we are able to iterate more quickly and bring newer experiences and even improve upon the experiences that we’re launching,” Microsoft’s global head of marketing for search and AI, Divya Kumar, said in an interview with VentureBeat.
“It’s exciting seeing this shift within a very short amount of time, 90 days, going from just a text-based experience to a visually rich, conversational experience,” Kumar added. “That’s the amount of data we’ve been getting. It’s been incredible to get the amount of feedback that we’ve been getting. Seeing the shift happen so quickly, at the pace of AI — it’s been fascinating.”
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Bing is now even more powerful
Bing search, long derided as an inferior rival to Google, has undergone a remarkable transformation after the company integrated GPT-4 into its core functionality three months ago. Microsoft says Bing has grown to exceed 100 million daily active users, and daily installs of the Bing mobile app have increased fourfold since launch.
Today’s update adds several visual search features, including the ability to search using images. It also allows you to generate charts, graphs and other visual answers within the search experience. Microsoft also says it is expanding its Image Creation Tool, which allows users to generate images through conversational prompts, to support more than 100 languages.
Bing Chat now saves your history
One of the most critical updates that rolled out today is the ability to revisit and resume previous conversations with Bing Chat. By integrating chat history and persistent chats within the Edge browser, Microsoft hopes to make search more relevant and convenient across multiple interactions. The company said that it plans to leverage users’ chat history and context to deliver more personalized and improved answers over time.
By keeping track of the user’s queries and responses, persistent chats can help users find relevant information faster, avoid repeating themselves, and follow up on topics of interest. Persistent chats can also create a more natural and engaging interactions with AI assistants over long periods of time, as they can mimic the flow of a typical human conversation.
Bing Chat will soon offer third-party plugins
The company also announced plans to open up Bing’s capabilities to third-party developers, allowing them to build features and plug-ins on top of the search platform. For example, Microsoft said people could soon search for restaurants in Bing Chat and then book a reservation through OpenTable, or get answers to complex questions through Wolfram Alpha, without leaving the Bing experience.
The introduction of third-party plugins essentially turns Bing into a platform, allowing developers to create applications that run within the Bing Chat interface. This is a similar strategy to one that’s being used by OpenAI with ChatGPT Plugins. The plugins will eventually be used in a similar way to apps on a mobile phone — each plugin will help users achieve a different specialized task, like booking a flight or watching a movie trailer.
Microsoft Edge browser gets an major upgrade
Microsoft is also releasing redesigned version of its Edge browser, which integrates Bing Chat. The most noticeable difference for users will be the new capabilities of Bing Chat via the Edge sidebar, which can now maintain chat history, export and share conversations from Bing Chat, summarize long documents and perform actions based on user requests.
Export and share functionalities enable users to easily share their conversation with others in social media or continue iterating on a newly discovered idea. Users can export their chat directly in the same format, making it easy to transition to collaborative tools like Microsoft Word.
Summarization capabilities help users to consume dense online content more efficiently. Bing chat can now summarize long documents, including PDFs and longer-form websites, and highlight the key points for users. Users can also ask Bing chat to summarize a specific section or paragraph of a document.
Actions in Edge allow users to lean on AI to complete even more tasks with fewer steps. For example, if a user wants to watch a particular movie, actions in Edge will find and show them options in chat in the sidebar and then play the movie they want from where it’s available. Actions in Edge will also be available on Edge mobile soon.
The new Edge will begin to roll out in the coming weeks for Windows 10, Windows 11, macOS, iOS and Android devices.
Next-generation search engine and browser
In a surprising dismissal of Google, Microsoft said it was not looking to compete with other search engines or browsers, but rather to offer a unique and innovative experience that leverages its strengths in artificial intelligence and cloud computing.
Microsoft said that these changes are part of its vision to make Edge the best browser for productivity and creativity. The company also said that it is exploring ways to make chats more personalized by bringing context from a previous chat into new conversations.
“I think the opportunity is in how much AI can play a role in not only driving productivity and efficiency, but reducing barrier, and actually helping with human connection,” said Kumar. “Honestly, I think we’ve just barely scratched the surface.”
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