Microsoft adds AI features, Reddit partnership to Bing search engine

Microsoft AI chief Harry Shum

MICROSOFT HAS announced a whole new bunch of features for Bing*, Cortana and Office 365 that up its AI credentials and make life a little bit easier.

Other new features include an AI-powered whiteboard app that can recognise freeform drawings and turn them into standard shapes, and an extension of capability within OneDrive and SharePoint to automatically recognise the content within images and automatically extract searchable text.

Microsoft is also trying to distinguish its 2nd-place search engine from long-dominant Google and position itself as an innovator in finding real-world applications for the latest advances in artificial intelligence.

The features are created to give users answers faster, provide them more comprehensive and complete information, and enable them to interact with the search engine more naturally.

For instance, asking Bing, "Is cholesterol bad?" brings up different perspectives - so you can apply the searched information depending on your particular situation - rather than a black and white answer. This update will build on the earlier feature announced in September that allowed Bing to add fact-checks into search results for cutting down on misinformation.

Bing pro-kale vs anti-kale
Microsoft's Kristin Behr shows how Bing search results show different views on kale- beyond"yuck. Stephen Shankland CNET

One source emphasizes coffee's ability to increase metabolism and another shows it can raise blood pressure. Similar questions can also be asked on more sensitive topics, such as whether the death penalty is a good idea. Combining Reddit's information and Microsoft's ability to quantify and analyze data means "We can actually handle complicated, nuanced questions", he added. For questions that have multiple answers, Bing will present the information in a carousel. These features will help browsers to better phrase a query in order to fetch more desirable answers on the first search. It combines recent breakthroughs in machine reading with the Bing knowledge graph to identify how many reputable sources an answer has, giving users more confidence that the answer is correct.

To test its technology, the company has compared its machine-reading skills to the verbal score on the Saturday.

"We are not at 800 yet, but we bypassed [former USA president George W.] Bush a long time ago", Shum joked. This will help Bing in doling out more advanced and improved search results for its users as it looks to put more heat on its dominant search rival Google.

"It's not only that you see more answers pop up to the top of the search results, but you'll get more perspectives as well", said Harry Shum, head of AI at Microsoft.

"We're getting to the point that for about 10 percent of those queries we'll see answers", he said.

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