Microsoft's Bing Search Wants to Strike Up a Conversation

Microsoft's latest trick involves turning Bing's natural language search capabilities into ongoing chats. The company wants users to ask follow-up questions.

Microsoft Bing natural language search

Microsoft has equipped Bing for extended Q&A sessions.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software company has rolled out a new Bing update that encourages users to delve deeper into their queries and topics of interest by asking follow-up questions. The feature expands on last year's release of natural language support for the search engine.

Bing has supported natural language, question-based searches for more than a year. For instance, typing "what is the highest mountain in the world" into the Bing search field generates results on Mt. Everest along with a Snapshot pane populated with facts and figures on the natural wonder.

"Today, we're taking it a step further," said Yan Ke, principal development lead of the Bing Relevance Team, in an Aug. 13 announcement. "Now, not only will [Bing] give you the answer directly in the search results, but we will also continue the conversation."

The feature could potentially help streamline the process of unearthing information on a given subject, saving time and no small amount of frustration. Instead of reformulating one's search at every step, users can build upon their past interactions to arrive at meaningful answers—just like a conversation with a live person.

Ke explained, "You can ask 'who is the president of the United States'; we will show you the answer." Anticipating that users will keep their questions along the same vein, Bing remains on the lookout for related questions and keeps the conversation on track.

"From there, you might ask, 'who is his wife?' or 'how tall is he?'," he added. "Bing maintains the context and keeps the conversation moving forward."

Bing's new conversational approach to search leverages "extensive work we have done to build out the Bing platform, including investments in entity and conversational understanding," said Ye. Those efforts include Microsoft's continually evolving Satori technology.

Satori, which means understanding in Japanese, is an indexing-software platform that generates in-context search results by finding the links between entities (people, places and things). The software powers Snapshot, a pane that appears to the right of Bing's main search results and displays a concise, fact-filled outline of the entity in question.

Last year, while releasing an upgraded version of Snapshot, Richard Qian, head of the Bing Index team, said Satori "is designed to develop deep understanding of the world around us, not only as a collection of entities (people, places and things) but also the relationships between those entities." Since the Bing team first employed the technology in June 2012, he said his group had "expanded Satori to include a significantly larger number of entities from more domains with a deeper level of understanding about them."

Microsoft's work continues, and users will see the results in the near future, Ke said. "This is a long journey, and we expect to deliver a number of additional improvements in the days ahead."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...