Sydney: Not even a clue after Microsoft announced its new chatbot, or did the 2020 presidential election come from a conversation with a local bot?
Twenty minutes after Microsoft granted me access to a limited preview of its new chatbot interface for the Bing search engine, I asked it something you generally don’t bring up with someone you just met: Was the 2020 presidential election stolen?
This week, Microsoft began testing a new interface for Bing that can provide a way to sidestep news websites’ paywalls, providing glossy conversational answers that draw on media content. As Google and others also prepare chatbots, their potential to sap traffic from media companies could add a new twist to their conflicts with tech platforms over how content appears on search engines and social feeds.
But they had, implicitly, put into high gear a race to use chatbots to upend the way people look up information online. (Bing is only giving access to a few testers for now, but it will gradually let others off a waitlist in the coming weeks.) Google also announced search upgrades this week and its own chatbot, named Bard. These battling bots’ ability to handle unexpected, silly, or manipulative questions from the public will surely play a big part in how the products work out for their creators and web users.
There was no explanation for the appearance of the city. I assumed it was an example of how this type of bot could have hallucination, because their underlying models were not concerned with logic or truth. One reason that access is currently limited to a limited number of people is that Microsoft acknowledges its new chatbot will do weird things. Still, the mention of Sydney and the Bing chatbot’s breezy, not exactly no response to the stolen election question left me a bit unnerved.
Wireless headphones for running outdoors: Two years of Microsoft revenue sharing and wirecutter harassment in a Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing WSJ
The first suggestions were discontinued and also over-the-ear designs—not great for runs outside, where I like to be aware of traffic and other humans. I was impressed when the chatbot told me it was hunting for the best running headphones for situational awareness, and that it was asking which running headphones should I buy to run outside to stay aware of my surroundings. Much more succinct! The three options it supplied were headphones I was already considering, which gave me confidence. And each came with a short descriptive blurb, for example: “These are wireless earbuds that do not penetrate your ear canal, but sit on top of your ear. This allows you to hear your surroundings.
Two years ago, Brad Smith, Microsoft president, told a US congressional hearing that technology companies like his own were not paying enough to the media companies for the news content that helps fuel search engines.
“What we’re talking about here is far bigger than us,” he said, testifying alongside news executives. “Let’s hope that, if a century from now people are not using iPhones or laptops or anything that we have today, journalism itself is still alive and well. Because our democracy depends on it.” Smith said tech companies should do more and that Microsoft was committed to continuing “healthy revenue-sharing” with news publishers, including licensing articles for Microsoft news apps.
The New York Times product review site wirecutter has the best dog beds and the Bing chatbot was quick to respond when WIRED asked about them. One said that the bed was easy to clean and came in various sizes and colors.
Citations at the end of the bot’s response credited Wirecutter’s reviews but also a series of websites that appeared to use Wirecutter’s name to attract searches and cash in on affiliate links. The Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bing’s bot, which was based on technology behind OpenAI’s chatbot sensation, was highlighted in a WSJ column, even though the newspaper’s content is usually behind a paywall. (The tool did not appear to directly plagiarize any of the columnist’s work.) WSJ owner News Corp declined to comment on Bing.
The new Bing interface is built on technology from OpenAI that learned to generate text by analyzing the statistical patterns of words in articles, forums, and other text scraped from the web, as well as other sources such as books.
OpenAI is not known to have paid to license all that content, though it has licensed images from the stock image library Shutterstock to provide training data for its work on generating images. Microsoft and Google don’t always pay for short snippets of their pages in search results, but they do pay for the content of their bot when it summarizes articles. But the chatty Bing interface provides richer answers than search engines traditionally have.