Microsoft gets chatty: Bing now rigged up for conversational search

Microsoft shows off more behind-the-scenes work its being doing to make Bing smarter.

Conversational search on Bing. Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has switched on a feature in Bing search that lets people ask follow up questions to their initial query.

The new feature on Bing should help address those times when one question simply leads to another. For example, the query "who is the president of the United States?" on Bing would return a Google-like card containing a summary of relevant information about Barack Obama. From there, a person could go on to ask "how tall is he?" and Bing should understand that term was in fact a follow-up question related to Obama, and not another initial search.

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"These improvements build on extensive work we have done to build out the Bing platform including investments in entity and conversational understanding," Yan Ke, principal development lead on the Bing Relevance Team, said.

"This is a long journey, and we expect to deliver a number of additional improvements in the days ahead."

However, a quick (fruitless) test of the new conversation feature in Europe suggests Microsoft either has some extra work to do or that it hasn't rolled out the capability across the entire globe just yet.

The addition of conversational search takes the desktop version of Bing a tiny step closer to Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant that today is limited to Windows Phone mobile devices. But, the underlying technology behind Cortana is Bing.

As Ke explains, Bing's new feature comes by way of combining its "conversational understanding" with its trove of data on "people, places and things" — the idea behind Google's Knowledge Graph and Facebook's Graph Search aimed at providing more relevant answers.

Microsoft shed light on its own work on understanding the relationship between these items last year with Bing Snapshot — or 'Satori' as its called within the company — which draws on social media, Wikipedia and other sources to provide relevant information summaries to users on the right hand side of Bing search results.

And while Google on the desktop has been adding features like conversational voice search through Chrome and Google Now on Android, Microsoft is believed to be working on integrating Cortana with its next Windows release, codenamed Threshold , which would deliver on its vision to bring it to Windows Phone, Windows, and the Xbox operating systems.

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