Bing will now use AI-powered natural language understanding to help provide users with multiple highlighted perspectives when they search for different topics, Microsoft announced today.
When users search for a controversial topic, Bing will provide users with different viewpoints, complete with source links to where they’re coming from. It’s supposed to help customers better understand different issues and give them the confidence to discuss topics that they’re being presented with.
For less controversial topics, the search engine will still pull in answers from different sources, providing users with multiple factoids, with footnoted references for each.
In addition, the search engine will also help people better put facts and figures into context with a new AI-powered feature. It’s designed to take some of the abstract thinking out of learning numbers, like calorie counts and country sizes. For example, users searching Bing for the size of Syria will be told that it’s roughly the same surface area as Florida. Questions about calorie counts will be supplemented with how the calories relate to exercise.
The changes come as people are questioning the role of search engines and answers extracted from the web. Google ended up in hot water recently when investigations showed that answers it featured to search queries provided readers with inaccurate answers. Microsoft both emphasizes the provenance of the answers that it shows and returns different responses, which may help mitigate issues of accuracy.
However, it’s also possible that Microsoft could deepen accuracy concerns by presenting factually inaccurate (if frequently argued) viewpoints alongside those with more evidence behind them.
All of these changes come as part of a suite of AI-powered changes to its search engine that Microsoft announced at an event in San Francisco today.
Customers will also be able to search inside images using computer vision. For example, customers will be able to take a picture of a model wearing a dress, then search for other images of that dress. New conversational search results will provide users with a more interactive way of exploring topics that they’re searching for, as well.
In addition, Microsoft and Reddit launched a partnership today that will provide people with results from the popular content sharing and community site through Bing, when they search for relevant content. For example, searches for topics will now surface content from Reddit’s popular “Ask Me Anything” question and answer sessions.
Users will be able to see upcoming AMAs, so they know when their favorite people are hosting a question and answer session. In addition, they’ll also be able to see a carousel of the top AMAs published through the site.
These features are supposed to help level up Microsoft’s search engine and make it more useful as the tech titan continues to fight with Google for the search market. While Bing was a punchline earlier in its life, Microsoft’s financial reporting has shown that it is increasingly valuable to the business.
Harry Shum, the head of Microsoft’s AI and Research group, said that Bing is powering a third of all web search traffic in the United States. It is a key source of data for Microsoft’s other AI capabilities, such as its Cortana virtual assistant.