Microsoft and Google are fighting to win the AI arms race
FFor decades, Google has dominated two fundamental elements of how we use the Internet: search engines and browsers. But the rise of new AI tools means these quasi-monopolies look more fragile than they have in years.
On Tuesday, Microsoft launched a bid to dethrone Google, announcing that it would integrate the powerful AI behind the ChatGPT chatbot into its rival search engine, Bing, and its Edge web browser.
The technology will allow Bing to better respond to more conversational queries that traditional search engines currently struggle with, Microsoft said in a blog post. Web search in its current form is “great for finding a website, but for more complex questions or tasks, it too often fails,” the blog post says. “Today, we are improving the way the world benefits from the web by reinventing the tools that billions of people use every day, the search engine and the browser.”
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Microsoft’s announcement came a day after Google said it would make its own chatbot, called Bard, available to the public “in the coming weeks”. This tool, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post, would be able to provide users with succinct answers to their questions, drawn from reliable sources of information on the web. Similar AI-powered upgrades will also soon be available for Google’s core web search product, Pichai wrote. “Soon you’ll see AI-powered features in search that distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats, so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more about the web. “
For years, Silicon Valley giants have positioned themselves to dominate AI, which many executives believe will define the next generation of consumer technologies. But 2022 has been an unprecedented year for breakthroughs in AI and the willingness of tech companies to make those breakthroughs public. Seemingly overnight, new image generation tools Dall-E and Stable Diffusion have sparked a cultural conversation about the validity of AI art. And when Dall-E developer OpenAI launched ChatGPT at the end of November last year, it caught the world’s attention in a way few could have predicted. The tool reached more than 100 million users in January, according to a UBS estimate, making it the fastest-growing consumer app in history.
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Suddenly, the biggest tech companies in the world started seriously ramping up their AI efforts. In January, Microsoft invested $10 billion in OpenAI, announcing that its machine learning tools would be integrated into Microsoft’s suite of desktop software. At the end of 2022, Google invested some $300 million to acquire a roughly 10% stake in Anthropic, an AI research lab that is reportedly set to release its own powerful chatbot software. “A race starts today,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Tuesday.
Microsoft’s attempt to disrupt Google’s dominance of basic internet functions – Google has around 93% of the global search engine market share and 65% of the browser market share, according to Statcounter – suggests that even if Nadella continues with massive layoffs amid a darkening economic climate, he also thinks the potential opportunities arising from AI are worth highlighting.
“What is exciting is the fact that [Google] will have to innovate,” said Nadella Bloomberg. “It’s a new paradigm. It’s a new day, and research innovation is back in the fore. The fact that the biggest software category with the best savings is back [the] competition is simply fantastic.
Even if Google is able to maintain its dominance of web search, the presence of viable competition in the form of Microsoft could have a big impact on the shape of the tech industry. Google currently pays Apple $15 billion a year to be the default search option on the iPhone; Microsoft may try to offer more to Apple in order to win a large number of new users to Bing, Alexandr Wang, CEO of Scale AI, predicted on Twitter. “Google’s $15 billion deal with Apple to be the default search on iPhone will be renegotiated and will be a bidding war between Microsoft/Bing and Google,” he wrote. “If Microsoft is willing to spend $10 billion on OpenAI, they will spend even more here.”
But Google may have other tricks up its sleeve. In its Monday announcement, Pichai mentioned Google’s Imagen text-to-image software and its MusicLM text-to-music tool, which are not currently available to the public. “We are working to incorporate these latest AI advancements into our products,” Pichai wrote.
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