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Microsoft upgrades Bing, while Amazon questions Alexa
You guessed it: there was more AI news this week.
Every single week, I feel like there’s enough AI news that I could write a 2,000+ word roundup of the headlines from the last seven days alone. The topic has been one of the hottest in the tech world for months, and it’s not cooling down any time soon.
This week, three of the biggest names at the forefront of AI-powered personal assistants—Microsoft, Amazon, and Google—were in the news for various reasons. One has a suite of upgrades for its chatbot, another is rethinking its approach, and another is rumored to add direct access to its assistant on the home screen of a particular smartphone line.
I’m gonna try to write more roundups like this each week that cover big stories or themes I’ve noticed, so let me know your thoughts on the format. In the meantime, here’s what’s going on in the world of AI (as of this week, at least).
Microsoft gives Bing a spring upgrade
The biggest AI news of the week was from Microsoft, who announced a slew of upgrades for Bing Chat, the ChatGPT-powered portion of the company’s search engine. It’s still in preview stages, but Microsoft is opening it up to all users, no waitlist involved.
One of the biggest new features is Actions, which lets you use Bing Chat to complete tasks like booking a reservation or playing a movie, all without having to ever leave the chat. This has the capacity to bring Bing more in line with other virtual assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant, minus the voice part.
Microsoft is also souping up the visual aspect of Bing Chat. It’s adding a richer interface to the responses it generates with things like charts, graphs, and updated formatting. Bing Image Creator, Microsoft’s AI image generator, is also getting an upgrade with support for all languages in Bing.
Chat history is coming to Bing, which is one of the most requested features from users (according to Microsoft). You’ll be able to browse the conversations you’ve had with Bing Chat, and the bot will even begin to use your history to offer better-contextualized responses.
Microsoft Edge is also getting a few upgrades courtesy of Bing Chat. It’ll now keep your chat open in a sidebar view when you open a link it recommends, and there will soon be new tools for exporting portions of your conversation with the chatbot. Improved summarization tools will also eventually roll out, which will help with condensing long documents like PDFs and websites.
Finally, Microsoft is opening up support for third-party plugins, which will become a huge deal over time. So far, we know that OpenTable will be given access to Bing Chat for reservations, Wolfram Alpha will provide new visualizations, and OpenAI will further expand support to developers through the core GPT model.
That’s a lot of upgrades for a chatbot that was only announced a few months ago, but proves that its monumental success is allowing Microsoft to collect user feedback in a very timely manner. The upgrades also further separate it from the competition which, at the current moment, doesn’t go much further than Google’s Bard and ChatGPT itself. Still, these changes are a big deal and further signal Microsoft’s desire to win the AI chatbot race for market dominance.
Amazon wants Alexa to work more like ChatGPT
Obviously, with such hungry competitors out there, it’s natural for other companies to reflect on their own AI efforts and look to improve. Amazon has found itself in that position and is currently exploring how best to expand Alexa’s capabilities.
Business Insider reports that the company is exploring ways to integrate its own large language model into Alexa, according to leaked documents. Since you can’t type anything into Alexa, Amazon has to think of ways generative text would be useful with a voice-controlled interface.
An example of that is an original bedtime story; according to the documents, an eight-year-old could ask for a story based on a “cat and a moon,” to which Alexa would respond by reciting an AI-generated story about a cat and a moon. Another example involves an Echo Show identifying a stuffed Olaf toy in the child’s arms, then incorporating the Disney character into the story.
The company’s LLM, reportedly called “Alexa Teacher Model,” would focus more on thinking for itself rather than relying on a database to fetch information, which would add a totally new dynamic to Alexa. It’ll be more conversational, easier to interact with, and better understand complex requests. (An example of that is a user asking to “find that HBO or Netflix show where rich people go on vacation to Sicily or Hawaii,” with Alexa correctly pulling up The White Lotus and beginning to play it on a Fire TV via HBO.)
Right now, it looks like Amazon is still working on the implementation of the language model, so we don’t have a timeframe for when it could ship. However, if the past few months are any indication, I wouldn’t be surprised to see its release to the general public by the end of the year.
Google might put a Bard widget on Pixel phones
In the world of Google, Bard is the AI future everyone is paying attention to. After releasing to the public (somewhat sporadically, if we’re being honest), it wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm as Bing Chat or ChatGPT, but it remains an interesting tool to play with.
Bard will eventually creep into a lot of Google products—it’s already widely present in Google Workspace with integration in Docs and Gmail, and there are even rumors of it coming to Chrome OS. According to 9to5Google, it’s also coming to Pixel phones.
Certain code that the publication viewed suggests that Google is actively working on Bard integration for Android. It’s unclear if the feature will be its own standalone app or somehow blend with the rest of the Google Search experience. There will also be a special homescreen widget for Bard, but it’s expected to remain exclusive to Pixel phones, which could also mean Google’s smartphone line will get the chatbot before any other Android device.
Not much other information is given, but with I/O 2023 coming up this Wednesday, it’s possible that we’ll learn more about the future of Bard on Android soon.
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