Microsoft is about to go head-to-head with Google in a battle for the future of search. At a press event later today, Microsoft is widely expected to detail plans to bring OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot to its Bing search engine. Google has already tried to preempt the news, making a rushed announcement yesterday to introduce Bard, its rival to ChatGPT, and promising more details on its AI future in a press event on Wednesday.
The announcements put the two tech behemoths, known for their previous skirmishes with each other, on a collision course as they compete to define the next generation of search.
Both companies are chasing a revolutionary new future for search engines: one where the results look more like short, simple answers generated by AI than a collection of links and boxes to click on. Google teased its Bard chatbot yesterday, with queries that seem to be 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 before.
The more humanlike answers could be revolutionary for search. ChatGPT — which is built by AI company OpenAI — brought conversational AI to the mainstream last year, and if the Bing integration works as intended, the use cases can genuinely shave hours off of research, spreadsheets, coding, and much more.
If a leak last week is accurate, Microsoft might not only be close to demonstrating ChatGPT inside Bing but also close to making it available publicly for Bing users to test. It’s an ambitious move that, if executed well, could put some serious pressure on Google after years of search dominance. While Microsoft’s rapid commercialization of OpenAI models will unnerve bitter rival Google, just how powerful Bing’s chat functionality is will be top of mind. Despite Google flexing its AI muscles for years, nothing has wowed the web quite like ChatGPT — even if it’s not perfect.
Microsoft might have an edge on ChatGPT as we know it today. While ChatGPT is based on GPT-3.5, a large 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 about exactly how powerful GPT-4 will be, with several entertaining guesses over the model’s number of parameters that have turned into memes.
After Google initially moved carefully with a ChatGPT rival due to fears of a “reputational risk,” a December report from The New York Times painted a picture of alarm bells being set off inside Google over ChatGPT’s success. It’s reportedly seen Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin offering advice to Google executives and pitching ideas in a level of reengagement we haven’t seen since the pair left their daily roles 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’s planning to open up access to its Bard chatbot more widely in the coming weeks.
Google has also invested $300 million in an AI firm, Anthropic, founded by former OpenAI researchers. Anthropic conducts research into AI language models and has built its own rival to ChatGPT named Claude. Anthropic’s chatbot isn’t public yet, but the company did recently reveal that Google Cloud is its “preferred cloud provider,” similar to how Microsoft is OpenAI’s exclusive cloud provider thanks to a multibillion-dollar investment.
But Google isn’t going to sit back and let Microsoft grab the AI search limelight easily, and judging by past skirmishes, this one could get just as ugly as the “Scroogled” era.
Microsoft treated Google like a political opponent a decade ago, with newspaper ads exploiting privacy concerns, a parody video, and even anti-Google merch. At one point, Google even blocked a Microsoft-developed YouTube app for Windows Phone. The pair also came head-to-head over Google Maps suddenly not working on Windows Phone and Google’s decision to drop Gmail ActiveSync support, affecting the syncing of personal Gmail contacts and calendar items for new Windows Phone devices.
It was clear back then that Google would do whatever it took to stop Microsoft from being successful in mobile, just as Microsoft would attempt to stop Google’s success with Chromebooks. It was a messy situation that was only really resolved when Microsoft and Google formed an unusual truce in 2015. The pact was reportedly forged to avoid legal battles and complaints to regulators and to foster cooperation.
The truce expired after six years in April 2021, just a month after Google slammed Microsoft for trying “to break the way the open web works” in a spat 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 notably silent during the US government’s antitrust suit against Google in 2020, despite being the No. 2 search engine at the time.
Microsoft has been teasing the importance of its OpenAI partnership recently, setting up just how important this moment is for the company’s AI ambitions. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says the company will turn AI models into the next major computing platform. “The next major 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 statement 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 heavily influence Windows in the future, as Microsoft prepares to integrate it into its own apps and services and throughout its flagship operating system. “AI is going to reinvent how you do everything on Windows, quite literally,” Panos Panay, Microsoft’s head of Windows and hardware, said at CES last month.
Microsoft may 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 leverage AI models in future versions of Windows. AMD’s new Ryzen 7000 mobile processors are the first x86 chips to contain a dedicated AI engine capable of running Microsoft’s various AI-powered Windows Studio features. Intel is also planning to bring AI capabilities to PC with its Meteor Lake processors.
Microsoft is also hard at work on Azure OpenAI, its service that allows businesses to integrate tools like DALL-E into their own cloud apps. Microsoft has promised ChatGPT will be available on Azure OpenAI soon, and sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge the company is currently planning to release this later this month.
Just how well Microsoft integrates OpenAI’s models into its own apps and services is key here. Microsoft missed the big mobile opportunity, and it promised the world with Windows Phone but was never able to deliver. OpenAI could give Microsoft an early advantage in the AI battles to come, which makes today an important milestone for Microsoft to outline why its $10 billion investment will help it lead the way in transformative technology that it believes will change “almost everything.”