New Bing's 'Sydney' personality was secretly in testing for years by Microsoft
The mysterious Sydney personality within Bing just had some light shed on it.
What you need to know
- Microsoft announced a new version of Bing featuring chat functionality powered by AI.
- A recent report shared the history of Microsoft's work with chatbot, including one bot known as Sydney.
- The Sydney chatbot was caught generating rude responses in testing back in November 2022 and has been attached to several rude or aggressive comments generated by the Bing chat tool.
Microsoft announced its new Bing powered by ChatGPT earlier this month, but the concept of conversational search is not new. In fact, a recent report by The Verge tells the story of how Microsoft tested a chatbot named Sydney for years, dating back to 2021. The tech giant had already worked with bots since 2016 but the tale of Sydney is particularly interesting due to its relationship with the new Bing.
Sydney is the codename for a chatbot from Microsoft. Its name may sound familiar, since it was recently revealed that it appeared for some testers in India near the end of last year. Some users have been able to get the new Bing to refer to itself as Sydney.
“Sydney is an old codename for a chat feature based on earlier models that we began testing in India in late 2020,” said Caitlin Roulston, director of communications at Microsoft, to The Verge.
“The insights we gathered as part of that have helped to inform our work with the new Bing preview. We continue to tune our techniques and are working on more advanced models to incorporate the learnings and feedback so that we can deliver the best user experience possible.”
Microsoft worked on other chatbots between 2017 and 2021. Originally these were separate bots designed for different websites and services. According to The Verge, Microsoft shifted toward a unified bot approach with Sydney.
A turning point in Microsoft's approach to bots and search was a demonstration made by OpenAI in the summer of 2022.
"Seeing this new model inspired us to explore how to integrate the GPT capabilities into the Bing search product, so that we could provide more accurate and complete search results for any query including long, complex, natural queries," said Jordi Ribas, Microsoft CVP of Search & AI in a LinkedIn post (opens in new tab).
After meeting with OpenAI, Microsoft expanded its partnership with the AI company and got to work on its own Prometheus model, which uses the next generation of GPT and Bing to generate responses based on real-time information.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, the launch of the new Bing has not been entirely smooth. Rude and aggressive responses generated by the search engine's chat functionality drew criticism. Those comments were similar to ones made by the chatbot Sydney among testers in India in November 2022.
To prevent Bing's chatbot from getting confused by long conversations, Microsoft limited the number of chats per session and total chats per day to five and fifty, respectively. The company later raised those caps slightly.
Microsoft has discussed the odd behavior demonstrated by Bing during the search engine's first few weeks in preview. AI can improve quickly, but we'll have to wait to see how things trend to determine if Sydney's comments and other issues were early hiccups or long-term problems.
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Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at email@example.com (opens in new tab).