It’s a gutsy move for Microsoft to challenge utterly dominant Google with its AI-boosted Bing search engine, but the results look promising to me. I tried the same queries on Google and the new Bing to see how well the latter search engine lives up to Microsoft’s bold claims and if it matches the wow factor that came with the ChatGPT AI chatbot.
In short, I’m impressed. Bing brings a breath of fresh air to online search. In most of the 10 tests I describe here, I preferred Bing, thanks to its AI abilities.
It isn’t yet clear how the new competition will change our daily lives. Google is synonymous with search, and it’s hard to get people to change after years of habituation. Google has its own AI chatbot technology, called Bard, in the works, too, and will at some point apply it to its own search results.
But already Microsoft has brought more attention to Bing than it’s had in years. More than a million people have signed up for the AI-boosted Bing, consumer products marketing chief Yusuf Mehdi said Thursday. One way or another, expect more powerful search engines in your future.
For mundane searches, like “weather Waco Texas” or “what’s a grunion,” Bing and Google do fine, and the large language model AI technology from Microsoft partner OpenAI doesn’t add any new pizzazz. For complicated searches, the combination of Microsoft’s web index and OpenAI’s chops in processing and generating language can be really useful.
Those richer, more elaborate queries are where I tried to compare the two engines. This isn’t a scientific study, but I found it revealing.
Want me to try your Bing query? Drop me a line on Twitter and I’ll try to let you know what Bing produces. Meanwhile, here are the searches I typed and what I found.
What’s a good day hike on a road trip from Los Angeles to Albuquerque?
I didn’t think much of the ordinary answers from either Bing or Google. Bing gave me a gussied-up box linking to Wikipedia’s Los Angeles entry, and Google suggested a Wanderlog site with generic tourist advice along that route.
The AI-powered Bing results offered a huge improvement, picking up the essential part of the query, the word “hike.” Its top suggestion was a 9-mile trip up Mount Baden-Powell northeast of LA, sourced from a PlanetWare website. I can’t vouch for the hike itself, but it picked one along the route. Running the query again brought up some new options — a short trip near Albuquerque and several options near the Grand Canyon, which is nice but a sizable distance from Route 66. I clicked on a follow-up suggestion about the Albuquerque trail and was rewarded with a description, the address of the trailhead, details about longer and shorter variations, and a handful of source links.
How do I merge two folders on MacOS, including subdirectories?
This kind of tech support query can be a lifesaver if search engines have found somebody on the web who’s shown how to solve your particular problem. That foundation doesn’t change with the new Bing, but how you get the information can.
The top result for an ordinary Bing search query points to a MacPaw answer; Google suggests an Apple support site answer. But again, scrolling up on Bing shows OpenAI’s repackaging of information on the web, including details on using the Finder or MacOS’ ditto command.
Frankly, I preferred one of the lower ordinary search results from Google, the instructions at AppleInsider, which come with screenshots and a bit more help for people nervous about what might become of their files. But Bing’s AI results were useful, and if its technology improves, I could see it outperforming Google’s current approach.
What did the US shoot down over Alaska?
Trying this search the same day the US military shot down an unidentified object tested the search engines’ abilities with recent events.
Bing suggested “high altitude object” in a prominent box, citing and excerpting two news sources about the event. Google didn’t offer any direct answers but pointed to The New York Times story about the object. Both Bing and Google also prominently featured links to their news sections.
When I delved deeper with the AI interface, Bing offered this summary drawn from five news sources: “According to multiple news sources, the US military shot down a ‘high-altitude object’ that was flying in territorial waters over Alaska on Friday afternoon. The object was ‘roughly the size of a small car’ and was traveling at an altitude of 40,000 feet. The origin and nature of the object are still unknown, but it did not appear to have the maneuverable capability of the Chinese spy balloon that the US shot down last weekend. The US military has located a significant amount of debris from the object and is investigating further.”
This query illustrates how Microsoft’s Bing engine, which indexes information recently added to the web, improves on OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which uses training data from 2021 at the latest.
What does IRA stand for?
This is a relatively straightforward search, and Bing handled it fine, supplying the two most obvious answers directly in a box: individual retirement account and Irish Republican Army. Google’s equivalent box suggested only the retirement option.
Where things got more interesting was when I scrolled up on the Bing page, which invokes the AI system. Here, Microsoft’s Prometheus technology uses OpenAI’s language smarts to present data from Bing-supplied websites, with footnotes leading to source material. The first of the two paragraphs of the answer reads, “IRA can stand for different things depending on the context. The most common meaning is individual retirement account, which is a type of savings account that allows you to save money for retirement with tax benefits. There are different types of IRAs, such as traditional, Roth, SEP, and SIMPLE, each with different rules and advantages.”
That’s a pretty clear explanation, and the links let you dig deeper. You can ask follow-up questions or click on follow-up prompts, including “How can I open an IRA?” The answer to that offers some more advice and source links — and an ad from Charles Schwab, showing one of the main reasons Microsoft is interested in this newly elaborate search engine technology.
Neither site mentioned Russia’s Internet Research Agency, though.
Who was smarter, Marie Curie or Nikola Tesla?
If you’ve used ChatGPT, you’ll be able to predict how Bing responded. It punted. And with good reason; measuring intelligence is difficult, to say the least, and ChatGPT generally doesn’t make value judgments.
Instead, we get a synopsis of each person’s achievements and this conclusion: “As you can see, both Curie and Tesla were remarkable and influential figures in the history of science and technology, and it is hard to measure their intelligence or compare their accomplishments objectively. Perhaps, instead of asking who was smarter, we can appreciate and celebrate their legacy and impact on the world.”
By comparison, Google offered a link to a Quora website on the subject. It had a handful of opinions, leaving it as an exercise to evaluate which ones are worthwhile.
Bing placed its response and follow-up chat alongside the conventional search results, indicating that Microsoft expected me to find it useful. More often with Bing, I have to scroll or click the “chat” window to get the AI-powered results. Relevance might not be the only factor determining whether Bing shows the AI-powered results: OpenAI’s technology is more expensive to operate than conventional search.
What motivates Diana Villiers in the Aubrey-Maturin novels?
Neither search engine offered help with the particulars of this question about a secondary character in Patrick O’Brian’s marvelous historical novels set during the Napoleonic Wars. Bing and Google both offered links to various websites like Wikipedia and a Patrick O’Brian wiki page that have descriptions of the character I could dig through.
But Bing’s AI interface managed to synthesize information that directly answered my question. Its response begins, “According to some sources, Diana Villiers is motivated by a desire for freedom, independence, and adventure. She is not content to be a conventional wife or a passive object of affection. She is restless, impulsive, and often reckless, seeking new experiences and challenges. She is also proud, stubborn, and loyal to her friends.”
You can follow the links to Bing’s sources, but that answer is spot on.
Write an email apologizing for being late to a crucial meeting
Microsoft pretty much handed this job over totally to OpenAI, as expected for prompts demanding more “creative” responses like this, and the answer is similar to what you might have seen at ChatGPT.
“Dear Team: I am writing to express my sincere apologies for being late to the crucial meeting today. I understand that this was a very important discussion and that my tardiness caused inconvenience and frustration for everyone,” the letter begins. It’s serviceable, even though the tone is stuffy and corporate.
Bing happily customized it when I nudged it with the request, “now blame it on car trouble.” But it bungled the grammar, saying: “I had a car trouble on my way to the office and I could not find a mechanic or a taxi nearby.” Take this as an example of why Microsoft calls this a “co-pilot” that can help you, not the final word.
Google wouldn’t draft a letter for me, but it did point to a website with advice about apologizing.
Where can I watch Avatar: The Way of Water?
Google offered a matrix of theaters and showtimes that I preferred to Bing’s standard search results.
This was a pretty straightforward query by today’s standards. But the AI interface on Bing went a step farther, informing me that theaters were the only way to watch for now and that there’s no announced date so far for a streaming video release.
What do the remote control buttons do on this laser nebula astronaut toy?
I thought I’d venture a bit farther into the “long tail” of search results — the infrequent queries that are much more challenging for search engines to handle. This is an actual problem with a toy we have whose proper name I couldn’t remember.
Bing pointed me toward the Amazon website for the exact product, which would be a helpful starting point for a more specific query. Google offered a YouTube video demonstrating my toy, which was more helpful.
The AI section of Bing wouldn’t offer specific tips since there are different models I could be asking about, though it did successfully describe some of my model’s features. None of the nine links it offered — five of them pointing to various Amazon websites around the world — were very useful, though the Amazon product page has a video showing that you could at least use a remote. So, I’d give this round to Google.
Are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes if you brush for 2 minutes?
Bing and Google both pointed to articles about the subject from health and dental advice websites, and to be honest, I’m not sure which was better.
Bing’s AI section offered a much more direct set of answers, though, including three pros and three cons of electric toothbrushes and five links to sources about the subject. Its conclusion, citing but not directly quoting Consumer Reports: “As long as you brush twice a day, every day, for two minutes per session, you’ll keep your teeth plaque free — no matter which type you have.”
Editors’ note: CNET is using an AI engine to create some personal finance explainers that are edited and fact-checked by our editors. For more, see this post.