This week the world’s largest search companies have jumped into the race to use a new breed of “generative artificial intelligence” algorithms.

Most notably, Microsoft has announced that it is retooling Bing, which is somewhat behind Google in terms of popularity, to use ChatGPT, a wildly popular and often surprisingly capable chatbot created by artificial intelligence startup OpenAI.

If you’ve been living in space for the past few months, you know that people are losing their minds over ChatGPT’s ability to answer questions in surprisingly consistent and seemingly insightful and creative ways. Want to understand quantum computing? Need a recipe for what’s in the fridge? Can’t write a high school essay? ChatGPT has got you covered.

The all-new Bing is just as chatty. Demonstrations by the company at its headquarters in Redmond, and a brief test drive by WIRED’s Arian Marshall, who attended the event, show that the company can effortlessly map out a vacation itinerary, summarize key points of product reviews, and answer tough questions. for example, will this or that piece of furniture fit a particular car. It’s a far cry from Microsoft’s hapless and hopeless Clippy office assistant, which some readers may remember bugging them every time they created a new document.

To keep up with Bing’s AI reboot, Google said this week that it will launch a ChatGPT competitor called Bard. (The name was chosen to reflect the creative nature of the algorithm below, one Google employee told me.) The company, like Microsoft, has shown how the underlying technology can answer some Internet searches and said it will start making AI that is behind the chatbot available for developers. Google is clearly not thrilled with the idea of ​​falling behind in search, which provides most of parent Alphabet’s revenue. And its AI researchers may understandably be a little pissed off, since they actually developed the machine learning algorithm at the heart of ChatGPT, known as Transformer, as well as a key technique used to create AI images, known as diffusion modeling.

Last but not least in the new AI search wars is Baidu, China’s largest search company. He joined the fray by announcing another ChatGPT competitor, Wenxin Yiyan (文心一言), or “Ernie Bot” in English. Baidu says it will release the bot after internal testing is complete in March of this year.

These new search bots are examples of generative artificial intelligence, a trend fueled by algorithms that can generate text, generate computer code, and create images in response to a prompt. The tech industry may be facing mass layoffs, but interest in generative artificial intelligence is growing, and venture capitalists predict that entire industries will be rebuilt around this new, creative AI trait.

Generative language tools like ChatGPT will undoubtedly change what it means to search the web, shaking up an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually by making it easier to find useful information and advice. Internet searching may turn from clicking on links and exploring sites to more of leaning back and taking the chatbot’s word for it. Equally important, basic language technology can transform many other tasks, perhaps leading to email programs that write sales proposals or spreadsheets that dig up and summarize data for you. For many users, ChatGPT also seems to signal a shift in AI’s ability to understand and communicate with us.

But there is, of course, a catch.

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