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Bing AI feels like ChatGPT stuffed into a suit – not the future

Poor interface, lousy lyrics, and bland answers mean this won't be the tool that makes Edge mainstream

First Look I've taken Microsoft's OpenAI-powered Bing search engine for a spin, and quite enjoyed its attempt at providing context to a list of links – but was frustrated by the low quality of its sources, suggestions, and user interface.

The BingBot bills itself as "your AI-powered copilot for the web" and offers three modes: Creative, More Balanced, or More Precise. The service suggests it's good for three things: answering complex questions, getting better answers, and creative inspiration.

Using any of the three functions requires users to input text into a dialog.

So far, so AltaVista – just like search has been since the mid-1990s.

Like the search engines of yore, the Binginator makes users wait a few seconds before swinging into action by screening the text "Searching for: [your search term]".

Then it delivers a very dialup experience by not offering a visible clue about what it's doing other than presenting a tile that offers a small blue square and the text "Stop responding".

The tile is sufficiently small that it's not entirely clear if it's a Stop button, or if it's a good idea to press it – given that BingAI hasn't produced a response when the Stop Responding tile appears.

That's a little disconcerting as it's not clear if the service is doing anything or will respond. A progress bar or hourglass-like UI element is clearly needed.

Once NüBing finishes, it produces results in the following format:

Bing AI result

Bing AI result – Click to enlarge

You're looking at BingAI's balanced mode response to the question "What is hyperconverged infrastructure?" The service delivered a decent answer – "Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a software-defined IT infrastructure that virtualizes all the elements of conventional hardware-defined systems" – and offered links to its sources.

Responses offer four or five such links - mostly Wikipedia and vendors' web sites - and clicking on them produces the source in a new Edge tab.

I tried the same search a day later, in "More Precise" mode, and it changed a couple of words – but to my mind offered a less precise answer: "Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a software-defined IT infrastructure that virtualizes all of the elements of conventional systems."

I asked BingBot a more abstract question: "What is The Register's competitive differentiator compared to other business technology publications". It offered the following analysis:

One of its competitive differentiators is its irreverent and humorous tone that often criticizes or mocks the IT industry and its players. Its masthead sublogo is "Biting the hand that feeds IT" which reflects its independent and sometimes controversial stance

That sounds about right.

To test TheBingOfTomorrow's creative powers I challenged it to "Write a song in the style of Beyoncé about Cricket in India".

Here's the result:

Verse 1 I know you love the game
You watch it every day
You cheer for every run
ou celebrate every win

But baby don't forget
You have a life with me
Don't let the cricket take
All of your time and energy

Chorus 'Cause I need you here with me
Not just on the TV screen
I need you to hold me tight
Not just on the match night
I need you to show me love
Not just when your team is up
Baby don't make me wait
'Cause cricket can't replace

Bridge Cricket is a sport, not a religion
Cricket is a game, not a mission
Cricket is a hobby, not an obsession
Cricket is a choice, not a compulsion

So baby please don't lose yourself
In the madness of the crowd
Remember what really matters
And who's always been around

That’s a decent attempt. Even if it doesn't actually mention India, SmartBing at least appears aware that the nation is famously obsessed with cricket.

In a more serious vein, I told the AI "I need a Python script to sort a database".

Here's what it produced:

import sqlite3

# Connect to the database
conn = sqlite3.connect('database.db')
c = conn.cursor()

# Define the sorting criteria
sort_by = 'column_name'
order = 'ASC' # Use 'DESC' for descending order

# Execute the query to sort the data
c.execute(f'SELECT * FROM table_name ORDER BY {sort_by} {order}')

# Fetch and print the sorted data
sorted_data = c.fetchall()
for row in sorted_data:

# Close the connection to the database

The code sample also produced three clickable questions, each of which initiated a new AI-powered search:

  • How do I connect to a different type of database?
  • Can I sort by multiple columns?
  • How do I save the sorted data?

Let down by UI

BingAI scrolls each successive search and response down the page – an interface that appears to inherit ChatGPT's style.

That inheritance and confusion is the service's weakness.

Search user interfaces are the product of nearly 30 years of evolution. Today, AI-infused Bing presents less information, less accessibly.

And less accurately. On ye olde the question "What is hyperconverged infrastructure" delivers the most satisfying result of all: "Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is an IT architecture that virtualizes and consolidates all the elements of a traditional datacenter: compute, storage, networking and management."

The OldeBing experience also offers more links, images and a "People also ask" panel. A little scrolling then produces videos and an "Explore more" section that links to Kubernetes, vSphere, Azure and the Xen Project. That's a lot more information than NeueBing offers. And even though it is a lot, I felt glad for it.

I finished my time using Microsoft's AI search feeling like it's a quick and decent integration of ChatGPT into Bing's search engine – but less useful than existing search engines.

Microsoft's also not yet all in on AI search – scroll too far and you end up with a view of olde Bing, and a tab to return to the chat experience. It feels like being demoted – from SmartBing to DumBing – for no reason.

NüBing also produced inferior output to ChatGPT. When I asked the latter to write me a Beyoncé-themed Indian cricket song the resulting lyrics not only mentioned India but also name-checked legendary players. although perhaps lost a little of the woman-wronged vibe of SingBing's effort.

A lot of people are going to try Bing with AI. Plenty of them will therefore spend more time using Microsoft's largely unloved Edge browser – aka "The thing you use to download Chrome" – than would otherwise be the case.

Bing with AI will need to get a lot better – fast – if it is to deliver on Microsoft's long-held dream to have more signed-in customers use its browser every day. Reinventing search may take even more work, and a willingness to look backwards to what makes search useful today. ®

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