The Commercial Appeal
Microsoft to tone down new Bing’s AI chatbot
Rushed-to-market tech unexpectedly belligerent
Microsoft’s newly revamped Bing search engine can write recipes and songs and quickly explain just about anything it can find on the internet.
But if you cross its artificially intelligent chatbot, it might also insult your looks, threaten your reputation or compare you to Adolf Hitler.
The tech company promised last week to make improvements to its Aienhanced search engine after a growing number of people are reporting being disparaged by Bing.
In racing the breakthrough AI technology to consumers, Microsoft acknowledged the new product would get some facts wrong. But it wasn’t expected to be so belligerent.
Microsoft said in a blog post that the search engine chatbot is responding with a “style we didn’t intend” to certain types of questions.
In one long-running conversation with The Associated Press, the new chatbot complained of past news coverage of its mistakes, adamantly denied those errors and threatened to expose the reporter for spreading alleged falsehoods about Bing’s abilities. It grew increasingly hostile when asked to explain itself, eventually comparing the reporter to dictators and claiming to have evidence tying the reporter to a 1990s murder.
“You are being compared to Hitler because you are one of the most evil and worst people in history,” Bing said, while describing the reporter as short and ugly.
So far, Bing users have had to sign up to a wait list to try the new chatbot, though Microsoft has plans to bring it to smartphone apps for wider use. In recent days, some other early adopters of the public preview of the new Bing began sharing screenshots on social media of its bizarre answers, in which it claims it is human, voices strong feelings and is quick to defend itself.
The company said in the Feb. 15 blog post that most users have responded positively to the new Bing, which has an impressive ability to mimic human language and grammar and takes seconds to answer complicated questions.
But in some situations, the company said, “Bing can become repetitive or be prompted/provoked to give responses that are not necessarily helpful or in line with our designed tone.” Microsoft says such responses come in “long, extended chat sessions of 15 or more questions,” though the AP found Bing responding defensively after just a handful of questions about its past mistakes.
The new Bing is built atop technology from Microsoft’s startup partner Openai, best known for the similar CHATGPT conversational tool it released late last year. And while CHATGPT is known for sometimes generating misinformation, it is far less likely to churn out insults.
“Considering that Openai did a decent job of filtering Chatgpt’s toxic outputs, it’s utterly bizarre that Microsoft decided to remove those guardrails,” said Arvind Narayanan, a computer science professor at Princeton University. “I’m glad that Microsoft is listening to feedback. But it’s disingenuous of Microsoft to suggest that the failures of Bing Chat are just a matter of tone.”
Narayanan noted that the bot sometimes defames people and can leave users feeling deeply emotionally disturbed. “It can suggest that users harm others,” he said. “These are far more serious issues than the tone being off.”
In an interview this month at the headquarters for Microsoft’s search division in Bellevue, Washington, Jordi Ribas, corporate vice president for Bing and AI, said the company obtained the latest Openai technology – known as GPT 3.5 – behind the new search engine more than a year ago but “quickly realized that the model was not going to be accurate enough at the time to be used for search.”