Microsoft injected the wildly popular ChatGPT large language model chatbot into its Bing search engine one day after archrival Google released Bard, its own interactive chatbot intended to challenge the sudden dominance of ChatGPT.
The race for supremacy in the search area pits upstart OpenAI, the Microsoft-supported AI lab that created the ChatGPT generative AI model, against Google's search-by-relevance paradigm and its new generative AI product.
"Public-facing leaps and advances in these capabilities that anybody can use from OpenAI have really set the tone and conversation and allowed Microsoft to capitalize on this to become seen as a leader in the space through its association," said William McKeon-White, a Forrester Research analyst.
Chatbot war surging
Microsoft's quick move to infuse its own products with ChatGPT and Google's swift response with Bard, a lightweight front end to its LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) conversational chatbot, follows Microsoft's $10 billion investment in OpenAI in January. OpenAI had been a nonprofit.
In response to text prompts, ChatGPT can write software code and academic essays, produce poetry and literary nonfiction, and research complex topics. It has become so popular that the free beta version had recently become unavailable much of the day, though OpenAI is readying a paid version expected to be available even during peak usage periods.
The Microsoft-OpenAI alliance is seen as a potentially deadly threat to Google's longtime ownership of most of the consumer search market by supplanting Google's query model with the search-and-produce power of ChatGPT.
Google holds about 84% of the global search market, while Bing has 9%, according to Statista. They are followed by a host of others, including Yahoo with about 2.6%; Baidu, DuckDuckGo and others hold 1.5% or less.
Meanwhile, Google is positioning Bard as a more thoughtful and accurate interactive search engine not hampered by the accuracy and timeliness problems ChatGPT has encountered since OpenAI released it in November. ChatGPT is limited, so far, in that it can only pull information available before September 2021.
Google's model threatened
But Google is still committed to generating revenues by selling user clicks in search to advertisers, noted Johna Till Johnson, founder and analyst at Nemertes.
Johna Till JohnsonFounder and analyst, Nemertes
"For Google, AI is an existential survival issue. If 'Google it' becomes 'ChatGPT it,' Google's ad revenue will disappear, and the company will implode," Johnson said. "Bard makes sense in that context -- if people transition seamlessly from 'Google it' to 'Bard it,' Google will have successfully defended its position."
On Tuesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, at a hastily arranged media event with OpenAI, trumpeted the innovation Microsoft has been spearheading in search, which he called "the largest software category on planet earth."
"It's a new day in search, it's a new paradigm for search, rapid innovation is going to come," Nadella said in remarks live-blogged from the in-person event by CNBC.
OpenAI's ChatGPT technology -- which Nadella said is "the only thing anybody in your family wanted to talk about throughout the holidays" -- will "reshape pretty much every software category."
The Microsoft event, at which Nadella demonstrated a new Bing version with a chat box equipped with some ChatGPT features, came a day after Google said it would open Bard to testers and then to the public in the upcoming weeks.
ChatGPT tech in Bing
The key ChatGPT features in the updated Bing search engine and Microsoft's Edge browser include a search sidebar with more comprehensive answers, complete textual answers to questions, trip and itinerary planning, and email composing, according to Microsoft.
The new Bing is available now in limited preview, and users can sample it and sign up for the waitlist. The preview will be scaled to millions of people in several weeks, the vendor said.
Bard is a direct descendant of the LaMDA system unveiled two years ago that generated controversy after one of its developers claimed it was sentient and possessed feelings.
In a blog post, Google CEO Sundar Pichai called Bard an "experimental conversational AI service" powered by LaMDA that can draw knowledge from the web and combine it with the power and intensity of Google's large language models.
In essence, Pichai said Bard can do what ChatGPT does, but he emphasized that Google has worked to incorporate safety, accuracy and "groundedness" features. That was a veiled jab at ChatGPT, which has been shown to produce faulty and sometimes offensive responses despite OpenAI's use of word filters.
Neither Microsoft nor Google have shown features that add citations or sources to their generative AI chatbot search results, capabilities that are available in ChatGPT alternatives such as You.com's YouChat, developed by ex-Salesforce scientists.
Google aims at different approach
With its intensive investment in DeepMind, the AI and deep learning research unit it acquired in 2014, Google has exercised restraint by not releasing something like Bard until now, said Dan Miller, founder and analyst at Opus Research.
"They could have done something like ChatGPT at any point," Miller said.
"But now everybody's been egged forward with the attention to ChatGPT and the traffic going to OpenAI. Google is now going to emphasize partnerships that put in guardrails, something conversational models like ChatGPT are not particularly good at," he continued. "There are gaps in what they're capable of doing."
For example, Miller noted, in addition to accuracy problems, generative AI pre-trained transformers yoked to large language models such as ChatGPT and Bard are not adept at knowing the specifics of many things, such as companies and their branding and products.
"There's a lot of work to be done before you take ChatGPT or Bard and slam it into a contact center," he said.
Generative AI proliferates
With the quick emergence of ChatGPT and Bard, and a welter of new and already widely used speech-to-image and text-to-image systems such as Dall-E from OpenAI and Stable Diffusion from Stability AI, generative AI is exploding.
Startup ElevenLabs last month released a voice cloning platform. TechTarget Editorial published an audio version of a recent news story using the tool.
And Writesonic launched ChatSonic, a ChatGPT-like conversational chatbot the vendor said remedies some of the limitations of ChatGPT, such as its current inability to deliver up-to-date content.