Microsoft's decision to supercharge Bing with ChatGPT technology has transformed the also-ran search engine into a chatbot with the power to search the web and tell you what it found.
This has the potential to radically change the way we use the Internet, and competitors like Google's Bard AI are already surfacing to meet new demand for search engines that talk back.
But as the race to create the ultimate search chatbot gathers speed, all most of us really care about is what this new tech can do to make life better for the average person. We've spent decades learning how to understand the web via search engine results; how will these search bots improve on that?
At time of publication it's too early to say, as Bing with ChatGPT is still in a limited testing phase and not widely available to the public. But Microsoft is making it available to more folks every week, and soon it will be broadly available alongside a slew of competitors. When you can access Bing with ChatGPT I think you'll get a kick out of chatting with it — but will it actually be any more useful to you than a Google search?
I've had access to the new Bing with ChatGPT for nearly two weeks now, ever since I went up to Redmond to cover the Microsoft ChatGPT event, and I've learned a lot about how it works and how to make the most of it. I also happen to be planning a trip to the Netherlands later this year, so I thought it would be interesting to ask Bing to plan it for me. This is exactly the sort of task the new Bing is designed to help with, according to Microsoft, and it's a great opportunity to show you how well it works.
Here's how it went when I asked Bing with ChatGPT to plan my trip for me.
How to use ChatGPT for travel advice
I don't know about you, but when I'm planning a trip I start with one of three key data points—where am I going, when am I going, what am I doing — and fill in the rest from there. I happen to have an old friend in the Netherlands I'd like to visit this year, and I already have plane tickets booked for April. I know where I'm going and when; now, I need to find accommodations and some good ideas for fun things to do while I'm there.
Before Bing with ChatGPT, I would simply go to my preferred search engine (Google) and start searching for ideas using simple phrases or even just keywords. I might search for "best cheap hotel in Amsterdam", for example, and then start combing through top listings and comparing them myself. My search engine might try to help by suggesting well-reviewed hotels or showing me room rates it thinks are "cheap", but in my experience these suggestions aren't very trustworthy and you really need to dig through airline and hotel websites yourself to find the best options.
Could Bing with ChatGPT do any better? I pulled it up and asked it "What are the best cheap hotels in Amsterdam?"
The response I got was brief and clear. After some filler ("There are many cheap hotels in Amsterdam that offer good value and comfort") it listed three hotels that were "some of the best ones according to online reviews," with brief two-sentence descriptions of each and follow-ups asking me what kind of hotel I'm looking for and whether I have any preferences in amenities or location.
It's a pretty concise and helpful answer that, at a glance, seems more useful than the page of search results I got from Google, which has four "ad" links up top that require me to actually scroll down before I even get to the first "real" result.
But how good are Bing's answers? Well, to start off they're all the same answer—clicking each of the links for Bing's top 3 recommended cheap hotels in Amsterdam takes me to a Hotels.com page for the Travel Hotel Amsterdam, which is problematic since those links appear to point to three different hotels (The Toren, the Hotel De Hallen, and the Hotel V Fizeaustraat).
Obviously, that's not very helpful, so I scroll down to the block of hotel listings Bing has appended beneath its initial answer. This proves far more useful, as I can quickly skim brief listings (also charted on a map) for 9+ hotels in Amsterdam, replete with links, prices and user ratings.
More importantly, the links actually work, though they take me to Microsoft's Bing Travel page for a given hotel rather than the hotel's website. As it turns out, Microsoft's travel hubs are pretty good; I can see prices for the hotel across multiple booking websites, and I can even use Microsoft's Hotel Price trend checker to get a sense of how room prices rise and fall over time.
Okay, that's actually pretty handy.
However, it doesn't appear as though ChatGPT really played a key role in delivering the results I wanted. In fact, I bet I would have gotten better results if I'd just used vanilla Bing without a chatbot plugged in, because I would have gotten the same nudge towards Microsoft's Bing Travel listings and at least the first three links wouldn't have been to the wrong website.
But hey, Bing with ChatGPT is still in early public testing and as multiple Microsoft reps have said in the weeks since it debuted, mistakes are likely to occur. Maybe it will do better with a vaguer question, like what's fun to see and do in Amsterdam.
'I am sorry, I don't know how to discuss this topic'
So I ask Bing with ChatGPT "What are some fun things to do when visiting Amsterdam?" Bing's answer, when it comes, is surprisingly unhelpful: "I am sorry, I don't know how to discuss this topic."
What the heck, Bing?
This has been one of the key takeaways of my time using Bing with ChatGPT: You cannot trust it. At least, not yet. Not only can you not trust that it will give you an accurate or appropriate response, you can't even trust that it will understand what you're asking it to do, or that it will respond as you expect. Sometimes it gives answers that seem startlingly insightful or helpful, and other times it responds with garbage, errors or simple refusals.
In this sense, traditional search engines still have a big advantage over search chatbots because we've learned how to use them effectively. We can anticipate how a search engine will read our query and respond, so we can customize our question to get the best results using things like keywords, symbols and operators like AND/OR.
But I'm not one to give up on new tech just because it's a bit buggy. I know Bing with ChatGPT can give me some interesting ideas for what to do on my trip; I just need to ask it again, maybe in a different way this time. I try again, asking Bing to "recommend me some fun things to do in Amsterdam."
This time I get a more useful response. Bing zeroes in on the usual suspects, recommending me popular Amsterdam tourist attractions like the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank house and the Red Light District. It also asks me to provide more details on my interests so it can offer me better answers so I do, telling Bing "I like visiting museums, eating and drinking at great restaurants, and smoking marijuana" (which is legal to consume both in Amsterdam and here in California, rest assured).
Again, Bing with ChatGPT comes through with decent results. The chatbot repeats itself a bit, again recommending the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank house as good museums to visit, but who am I to argue? I've never been. They probably bear repeating, and anyway it's easy to skim past that bit to read the restaurant recommendations Bing has for me.
The chatbot also encourages me to visit some of the coffee shops in Amsterdam where marijuana is legally available, though it's careful to warn me that "smoking cannabis in public is illegal in Amsterdam" and I "should also be careful not to have more than five grams of weed in your possession or cause a public disturbance", lest my trip turn sour. Thanks Bing!
Of course, the ChatGPT tech underlying this new Bing is just making it appear as though the search engine has a mind of its own. Really it's just using machine learning and other tricks to construct sentences that look correct based on its training, which involves reading massive amounts of text and then generating sentences and responses that are approved or declined by human overseers. In fact, you can be one of those overseers, as Bing with ChatGPT provides easy-to-click approve/disapprove buttons on each response as well as a dedicated Feedback button on the page to provide more details to Microsoft.
Instead of actually caring about you, Bing with ChatGPT is parsing sentences from websites around the web and using them construct its responses, effectively repurposing the words of writers like myself. You can see where Bing pulls answers from by letting your mouse hover over the hyperlinked text and footnotes in each response, which at least gives you the option of clicking through to read the source material if you want more details. As it turns out, Bing's parochial concern for my wellbeing in Amsterdam is sourced from a site called Ganja Papi, so maybe I should be thanking Papi instead.
Of course it's still early days for Bing with ChatGPT, and the service is likely to change significantly in the year ahead. Hopefully this guide has given you some tips on how you can use Bing to plan your next trip, but it can do a lot more than that—check out our recent rundown of the 7 things you didn’t know that ChatGPT can do for some more cool ideas on how to use it.
For more tips on how to get creative with AI-powered tools, check out our guides to How to use the DALL•E 2 AI image generator, how to use Midjourney and how to use Starry AI on iPhone. If you'd rather use ChatGPT on your phone, check out our guide to how to use ChatGPT on iPhone and Android!