How do I compare the new ChatGPT-enabled Bing with Google when I haven’t used the monopolist for about four years?
Microsoft’s also-ran search engine has recently received a major boost from the generative artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot made by OpenAI, another company co-founded by Elon Musk.
Invited to the closed beta test, I have been using Bing for the last few weeks. Or trying to use it by searching more, so I can see how good this new form of so-called generative search is.
The chat functionality appears down the right side of the screen – in Microsoft’s Edge browser, which I have been using solidly for the last two years – while results are on the left as usual.
The advantages are obvious and fairly immediate. Along with the usual results, you get a more detailed, conversational text-based response to your query. The more specific it is, the more detailed the response.
Comparing it to Google is difficult because I have also been using DuckDuckGo as my search engine for the last four years or so. I, therefore, have very little recent experience using Google. I tried a few searches for this column and was reminded of why I stopped using it in the first place. It’s not very good.
I have always had a fundamental problem with how Google data mines its own users, so Google’s surveillance capitalism and poor results lost me a long time ago.
AI helps you search
When it comes to internet searches, I have a highly customised way of doing it. I have evolved a more precise way of using keywords or clearly articulated sentences to find what I am looking for. I don’t do much miscellaneous searching.
But, as it happens, our washing machine broke down and my wife and I wanted to research our options. I may be a technology journalist, but household equipment is not my beat. So, I asked this new form of generative search, and the answers were helpful.
I won’t bore you with the results. I called a friend in the industry who confirmed the advice was solid. The most useful thing, after the answers themselves, is that Bing has footnotes of where it sourced the data.
One of the first things you learn as a journalist is about where you get your information from. Many sources, as we call them, have their own agendas for giving you information – such as former spy boss Arthur Fraser releasing the damning Phala Phala scandal just before the Zondo Commission’s final report about his (alleged) culpability in state capture This is an extreme example, but it highlights the point. Where you get your digital information or search results is just as important.
Many testers have reported getting into verbal spats with the new Bing, where the chatbot responded with insults and trash talk. It never occurred to me to have an argument with a chatbot and then write that it was nasty to me when I insulted it. As OG tech journo Kara Swisher pointed out on her Pivot podcast: “only men are surprised when you act like an arsehole to AI, it acts like an arsehole back”.
So, after using generative AI search for our new washing machine, Bing told me: “Samsung has more innovative features… that can improve washing efficiency and fabric care”. The source was the authoritative DigitalTrends.com. We bought the Samsung. Thanks, Bing.
This article first appeared in Financial Mail.