Microsoft evidently hasn’t been daunted by the often wild outbursts of its AI chatbot Bing and is launching the service on iOS and Android mobile apps today as well as integrating the bot into Skype and adding voice access.
On mobile devices, Bing is now available on Microsoft’s Edge mobile browser and dedicated Bing app for those who have been accepted from the waitlist. The bot’s functionality is the same as on the web, which is to say that it’s somewhat muted compared to its startling debut. Voice control is also fine but a little slow, and Bing’s voice is unremarkable — female (of course) and vaguely robotic — not as convincing as recent AI voice clones.
After the “new Bing” was launched two weeks ago, users quickly found the chatbot was prone to saying all manner of wild things. As is the case with other AI language models, the bot had a tendency to make up information (including getting facts wrong in its first demo). But it also threatened, insulted, and bullied users, with some even mistaking its outbursts for the first glimmers of machine sentience.
Since then, Microsoft has tried to rein in Bing’s stranger tendencies, limiting the number of replies it can produce and giving users the option to toggle between different tones in its response. Although Microsoft has been criticized by many for rushing the bot’s launch, it’s clear the company thinks the attention — and opportunity to nudge its mobile browser and search engine into mainstream use — is worth any PR flak.
Alongside the bot’s launch on mobile, Microsoft is also integrating it into Skype. There, users will be able to speak to Bing directly or add the bot to other conversations. The company suggests you might be chatting with a family member about an upcoming vacation, for example, before adding Bing to ask for recommendations on where to go.
As TechCrunch notes, the idea of adding a chatbot to a conversation with a human is not wholly new. Google tried this in 2016 with its AI Assistant on the now-defunct Allo chat app.
What’s particularly interesting about this news is seeing Microsoft adjust its Bing strategy in real time. Although the company initially framed the chatbot as “reinventing search,” it’s now walked these claims back a little. In a blog post last week, Microsoft stated outright that Bing “is not a replacement or substitute for the search engine” — which was not the impression it gave during the chatbot’s launch.
In today’s announcement, Microsoft seems to be stressing the social and creative aspects of Bing much more. This isn’t a bad thing, as these functions are better suited to the limitations of AI language models. In the Skype blog post, for example, the company highlights Bing as “a great tool for generating ideas and inspiration,” with screenshots of the chatbot writing poetry. There’s only a passing mention of using Bing to find out about the news; a task for which the chatbot is ill-suited, making frequent factual errors.