Bing Chat, the ChatGPT-infused search engine preview that’s all the rage is now on your iPhone and Android phones where I found it just as wild an experience as it is on the desktop.
Actually, it’s wilder. Unlike the desktop, mobile ChatGPT Bing has the added special ingredient of a voice. That’s right, Bing speaks to you. There is some irony here that the most interesting thing Microsoft has done in years is also a moment to reflect on the company’s last Quixotic foray into voice-enabled assistants: Cortana.
You remember Cortana, right? If you’ve ever played Halo, then you have at least a passing knowledge of the AI assistant who helped Master Chief navigate his world. That fictional AI persona was so popular that Microsoft adopted the moniker as a code-name for its own real-world AI assistant and then kept the name when it introduced it a decade ago.
Cortana never lived up to its AI promise and was eventually deprecated and finally removed from Microsoft products.
Another chance at voice AI
Now we have a new AI voice chatbot from Microsoft and OpenAi (via a modified version of ChatGPT) that doesn’t have its own name, it simply lives inside Bing.
Still, knowing Microsoft’s history, and having spent two weeks playing with the Bing chat on my desktop, I could not resist getting some voice-to-voice time with Bing mobile.
I re-downloaded the Bing search app, a mobile bit of software I haven’t touched in years.
While the desktop puts the large “Ask me anything…” prompt window front and center, I had to select the small “b” icon at the bottom of the Bing app screen to access the AI-powered chat.
After installation, you’ll still have to decide if you want to let the app track you (I always say “no”) and give it access to your microphone so Bing can hear your query (say “yes”).
It’s weird but I have what might best be called AI anxiety. When faced with an artificial intelligence prompting me to “Ask it anything,” I freeze up, unable to think of a single good question.
Helping on the go
I eventually settled on, “Bing, write me a haiku about being on the iPhone,” which I spoke to the app.
Note, you don’t have to start with “Bing.” It’s not a watchword and activating the ChatGPT AI-powered Bing took pressing the Bing button.
Bing took a considerable amount of time before it responded. One thing I noticed is that Bing also says what it’s searching for based on your query. It’s pedantic but also useful in case you hear that Bing misunderstood and you want to stop Bing’s search.
After a few moments, Bing recited in a female voice that sounded a little like Cortana this original haiku:
On the iPhone screen
A world of information
Bing is here to help
Not bad and yes, it hit the 5-7-5 syllable limits for each haiku line.
Next, I asked Bing to come up with a romantic dinner for two featuring seafood and rice. The only caveat is that prep time had to be under 30 minutes.
After another long wait, Bing AI chat told me about two recipes and asked me which one I’d like. It’s here, though, where the conversational aspect breaks down a bit. Instead of leaving the microphone open to receive my response, I found I had to hit the microphone button again. After doing so, I told Bing that I chose the “second one.” Bing then graciously provided the Salmon and Rice recipe, which it would’ve read out in its entirety if I let it.
Finally, I asked Bing AI chat to play a game of Tic-Tac-Toe with me.
Bing happily agreed and presented an all-text-based playing board and, without asking me, made the first move as “X.” Each time either one of us made a move, it announced the board, not just the position of the “X”s and “O”s, but the dashes and plus signs it used to make it. Fine, I could live with that awkwardness for now.
After a couple of moves, I was prepared to block Bing AI chat for a win. Unfortunately, Bing cheats and insisted it won even though the board showed that it had not.
Aside from its sketchy game moves, the mobile version of Bing AI is relatively engaging. Microsoft still needs to work on the speed if it wants this to be a truly conversational AI and to take on the likes of Siri and Alexa. Otherwise, Cortana may have given her digital life in vain.