Microsoft’s next big AI push is here after a year of Bing

A year ago today, Microsoft unveiled its ambitious plans for an AI-powered Bing search engine. It was the biggest launch in Bing’s history, helped push AI use even further into the mainstream and sparked a wave of dreaming and panic about AI’s next impact. In fact, the launch was successful enough to upend Google, which was quickly seen as lagging behind in the field of artificial intelligence.

“They will definitely want to come out and show that they can dance,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella The edge at the time. “And I want people to know that we made them dance.”

The strategy worked. But a year later, Bing seems to have dropped out of the conversation. Google still has more than 91 percent of the traditional search market share, according to StatCounter, and ChatGPT has skyrocketed to 100 million weekly users, while Bing grew less than half a percent in the global search market.

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Microsoft doesn’t necessarily consider this a failure. ‘We’ve seen it [Bing] the share is growing,” said Yusuf Mehdi, executive vice president and consumer chief marketing officer at Microsoft, in an interview with The edge. The launch may not have “completely reshaped the search landscape,” says Mehdi, but it was important enough for Microsoft. “Even a few points of market share growth is important for Microsoft and for customers to create more competition.”

But while Bing may not have exploded, Microsoft’s AI ambitions did. Over the past year, the company has introduced AI features into just about everything: there’s AI in Office apps, AI features in Windows apps like Paint, and even a special AI key for laptops. Wherever you look, Microsoft has some sort of AI feature – and it’s not slowing down.

But instead of Bing at the wheel, Microsoft has opted for Copilot, an “AI companion” that the company is gradually putting into all its major software and services. Microsoft has now created a Super Bowl ad for Copilot that will air on Sunday. Following a rebrand from Bing a few months ago, Copilot is now being positioned as the future of Microsoft’s AI efforts, which rely more on productivity and creation than just search.

This new Super Bowl commercial for Copilot is in many ways a surprise from Microsoft after it has used multimillion-dollar ad slots in the past to remind the world why its software matters and tell emotional stories of gamers with disabilities. This time there are no Windows PCs, spreadsheets or Xbox consoles; just one iPhone and a push to get people to download the Copilot app on iOS and Android. If you’ve never heard of Copilot, you wouldn’t even know it’s a Microsoft commercial until the end.

“That’s pretty important for a company that has historically, at least among individuals, been heavily involved with the PC,” Mehdi says.

The Super Bowl ad, which focuses on the idea of ​​using AI to be creative, walks a fine line between empowering people to do things they would traditionally have to learn and be skilled at, and concerns about jobs being replaced by AI – especially in the creative industries. .

It’s also a subtle but interesting change for Microsoft’s AI efforts. The software maker has gradually stepped away from its renewed search battle with Google in recent months to focus on making Copilot a standalone product. “We were really behind one brand called Copilot, so we cleaned up all this other stuff and renamed it Bing Chat,” says Mehdi. “So we have one brand, one experience.”

In addition to these marketing efforts, Microsoft is also launching new Copilot features that improve the overall user experience and image creation capabilities of its AI assistant. In terms of image creation, you can now highlight objects in an AI-generated photo, blur the background of an image, or add an effect like pixel art to an image. The company has also done a lot to make the app look sharper.

“You will see a new look and feel. We have done a lot of things that are very subtle, like the color treatments, the spacing, and the speed of it will be much faster,” says Mehdi. The focus on image creation came after seeing how Bing users were using Copilot. “Image creation is one of the things that really resonates. I think this is the first step in making people feel like they can be creators again,” says Mehdi.

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Image creation has become so popular within Copilot because Microsoft offers it for free to everyone. That’s great for ease of use, but it does leave these tools open to abuse. Microsoft had to close a loophole in its AI image generator that could create explicit images of celebrities. AI-generated images of Taylor Swift became a trending topic on X last month, with reports of people creating and trading similar images using the Microsoft Designer AI image maker. Microsoft CEO Nadella called the AI ​​forgeries “alarming and appalling,” and Microsoft said last week that it “continues to investigate these images and has strengthened our existing security systems to further prevent our services from being misused to help generate such images.”

In addition to creating images, many Copilot users also use it for programming, writing code, research and analysis, Mehdi says, but it is still highly sought after. “Of the five billion chats we talked about, I would say the vast majority of chats are searches, about 70 percent,” Mehdi says.

Clearly, the shift away from search as the primary AI entry point for Microsoft also affects how Copilot appears in various products and services. It’s been a confusing year for the Copilot brand, which started in GitHub and then appeared in a number of retail products before gaining a bigger push as the Microsoft 365 Copilot in Office apps. That was eventually renamed Copilot for Microsoft 365, but it felt like every department at Microsoft was launching individual Copilots without any apparent effort.

That now seems to be changing. “We want to get to the point where there is a single co-pilot for each individual,” Mehdi reveals. “That Copilot can then add capabilities if you subscribe to it.” So in the future, if you subscribe to Copilot Pro or Copilot for Microsoft 365, it will just be an add-on to the main version of Copilot.

“I think over time you’ll see us continue to add more and more of those things. So the idea of ​​a personal co-pilot that is yours, we want to get to one idea, and we want everything you have to be unlocked with your IDs, with your personal IDs and work IDs,” says Mehdi. ‘We’ll see where we go. There are a lot of extensions coming to Copilot, whether that be GPTs or plugins, or the ability to create your own custom Copilots.”

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Microsoft is also working on a major Windows refresh focused on AI. Mehdi didn’t want to talk about the details of how Microsoft will overhaul Windows for AI, but he did drop some breadcrumbs about what to expect. “The unique thing about Copilot in Windows is that it can be aware of the context you are in,” says Mehdi. “It can understand the pages so it can do richer things.”

Microsoft is also considering running advanced AI models locally on PCs, something Nvidia and others have focused on in recent months, and making greater use of the NPU hardware included in Windows laptops. That’s all largely what we expect, but there’s also a greater push to use AI to turn everyone into a Windows power user.

“I think it’s about 20 percent [Windows] users use 10 percent of the features. Once you can say, ‘Hey, put my PC in dark mode, configure that printer for me, help me get this thing going,’ we can turn anyone into a power user of Windows,” says Mehdi. “It sounds cliché, but what I think this will deliver in terms of people’s ability to use computers to do amazing things will be quite profound.”

A year later, Bing’s AI isn’t at the top of the agenda, but it’s clear it’s sparked a major change for Microsoft. And while the impact on Bing wasn’t huge, the impact on the entire product line was.

“When we launched, we said we had to start somewhere,” says Mehdi. “I think we made the right decision to start with Bing.”

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