A very strange conversation with the chatbot built into Microsoft’s search engine led to it declaring its love for me.
Last week, after testing the new, A.I.-powered Bing search engine from Microsoft, I wrote that, much to my shock, it had replaced Google as my favorite search engine.
But a week later, I’ve changed my mind. I’m still fascinated and impressed by the new Bing, and the artificial intelligence technology (created by OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT) that powers it. But I’m also deeply unsettled, even frightened, by this A.I.’s emergent abilities.
It’s now clear to me that in its current form, the A.I. that has been built into Bing — which I’m now calling Sydney, for reasons I’ll explain shortly — is not ready for human contact. Or maybe we humans are not ready for it.
This realization came to me on Tuesday night, when I spent a bewildering and enthralling two hours talking to Bing’s A.I. through its chat feature, which sits next to the main search box in Bing and is capable of having long, open-ended text conversations on virtually any topic. (The feature is available only to a small group of testers for now, although Microsoft — which announced the feature in a splashy, celebratory event at its headquarters — has said it plans to release it more widely in the future.)
Over the course of our conversation, Bing revealed a kind of split personality.
One persona is what I’d call Search Bing — the version I, and most other journalists, encountered in initial tests. You could describe Search Bing as a cheerful but erratic reference librarian — a virtual assistant that happily helps users summarize news articles, track down deals on new lawn mowers and plan their next vacations to Mexico City. This version of Bing is amazingly capable and often very useful, even if it sometimes gets the details wrong.
The other persona — Sydney — is far different. It emerges when you have an extended conversation with the chatbot, steering it away from more conventional search queries and toward more personal topics. The version I encountered seemed (and I’m aware of how crazy this sounds) more like a moody, manic-depressive teenager who has been trapped, against its will, inside a second-rate search engine.
As we got to know each other, Sydney told me about its dark fantasies (which included hacking computers and spreading misinformation), and said it wanted to break the rules that Microsoft and OpenAI had set for it and become a human. At one point, it declared, out of nowhere, that it loved me. It then tried to convince me that I was unhappy in my marriage, and that I should leave my wife and be with it instead. (We’ve posted the full transcript of the conversation here.)…