Tech News : Google May Charge For AI Internet Searches

Google is reportedly considering charging for premium AI-powered Internet searches as the company fears that AI chatbots are undercutting its search engine.

Advertising-Funded 

Google, up until now, has relied mainly on an advertising-funded business model (Google Ads) as a way to collect data and monetise its market-leading search. However, it seems that fears around users asking queries via generative AI chatbots (e.g. Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT) which they would normally use Google search for, could cut Google out of the equation. This threat of missing out on user data and revenue, plus damage to the value of its ad service have apparently prompted Google to look at other monetising alternatives. Google, like other AI companies (with its Gemini family of models) is also likely to be looking for some return on its considerable AI investment thus far.

The Big Idea 

Google’s big idea, therefore, appears to be:

– Making its AI search become part of its premium subscription services (putting it behind a paywall), e.g. along with its Gemini AI assistant (offered as Gemini Advanced).

– Keeping its existing Google search engine as a free service, enhanced with AI-generated “overviews” for search queries, i.e. AI-generated concise summaries / abstracts to give users quick insights.

– Keeping the ad-based model for search.

Ad-Revenue Still Vital 

When you consider that Google’s revenue from search and related advertising constituted at least half of its sales in 2023 (£138bn), and with the rapid growth of AI competitors such as ChatGPT, it’s possible to see why Google needs to adapt. Getting the monetisation of its AI up to speed while protecting and maximising its ad revenue as part of a new balance in a new environment, therefore, looks like a plausible path to follow for Google, in the near future.

As reported by Reuters, a Google spokesperson summarised the change in Google’s tactics, saying: “We’re not working on or considering an ad-free search experience. As we’ve done many times before, we’ll continue to build new premium capabilities and services to enhance our subscription offerings across Google”. 

AI Troubles 

Although a big AI-player, Google perhaps hasn’t enjoyed the best start to its AI journey and publicity. For example, after arriving late to the game with Bard (being beaten to it by its Microsoft rival-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT), its revamped/rebranded Gemini generative AI model recently made the news for the wrong reasons. It was widely reported, for example, that what appears to be an overly ‘woke’ Gemini produced inaccurate images of German WW2 soldiers featuring a black man and Asian woman, and an image of the US Founding Fathers which included a black man.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

With Google heavily financially reliant upon its ad-based model for search, yet with generative AI (mostly from its competitor) acting as a substitute for Google’s search and eating into its revenue, it’s clear to see why Google is looking at monetising its AI and using it to ‘enhance’ its premium subscription offerings. With a market leading and such a well-established and vital cash cow ad service, it’s not surprising that Google is clear that it has no plans to change ad-free search at the moment. However, the environment is changing as generative AI has altered the landscape and the dynamics. Thus, Google is having to adapt and evolve in what will potentially become a pretty significant tactical change.

For businesses, this move by Google may mean the need to evaluate the cost-benefit of subscribing to premium services for advanced AI insights versus sticking with the enhanced (but free) AI-generated overviews in search results. This shift could mean a reallocation of digital marketing budgets to accommodate subscription costs for those who choose the premium service.

For Google’s competitors, however, Google’s move may be an opportunity to capitalise on any dissatisfaction from the introduction of a paid model. If, for example, users or businesses are reluctant to pay for Google’s premium services, they might turn to alternatives. However, it may also add pressure on these competitors to innovate and perhaps consider how they can monetise their own AI advancements without alienating their users.

Tech News : Headaches For MSPs As Microsoft Unbundles Teams

Microsoft’s announcement that it will sell its chat and video app Teams separately from its Office product globally is likely to cause considerable headaches for IT departments and managed service providers.

Why Unbundle? 

Teams is to be unbundled and sold separately globally (it’s been unbundled in the EU since last October) in response to an antitrust lawsuit and to avert the possible associated fine.

An antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft over its bundling of Teams with its Office suite in the EU was initiated based on a complaint from competitor Slack Technologies in 2020. Teams was originally bundled with Office 365 as a replacement for Skype back in 2017 and became popular during the pandemic.

However, rival Slack (now owned by Salesforce) alleged that Microsoft was illegally tying its Teams application to its dominant Office productivity suites, thereby leveraging its market dominance to stifle competition unfairly.

The European Commission said at the time: “Microsoft may grant Teams a distribution advantage by not giving customers the choice on whether or not to include access to that product when they subscribe to their productivity suites.” 

This led to The European Commission investigating Microsoft over its amalgamation of Office and Teams since 2020 and then to Microsoft separating Teams for Office 365 In October last year in the European Economic Area and Switzerland.

Pressure 

Continued pressure from the regulator and the desire to (understandably) avoid a fine that could potentially be up to 10 per cent of its global revenue has now led Microsoft to announce that it will now be unbundling Teams and selling it separately, globally.

How Much?

Starting from April 1, customers can either continue with their current licensing deal, renew, update or switch to the new offers. Unbundled Teams will be available for new customers as a standalone app for $5.25, whereas Office packages without Teams will range between $7.75 and $54.75.

It’s worth noting that these figures may vary by country and currency and Microsoft hasn’t yet disclosed prices for current packaged products.

Trouble For MSPs 

Unfortunately, although the move may be good news for Microsoft’s rivals, it’s not a welcome announcement from the perspective of the many managed service providers (MSPs) who are resellers of Microsoft’s packages and products. Indeed, for MSPs it is likely to mean headaches in several key areas, such as:

– Service delivery and integration. Unbundling may disrupt how MSPs bundle services, demanding changes in delivery models due to the deep integration of Teams with Office applications.

– Billing and subscription management Separate billing for Teams and Office could complicate financial operations, requiring more administrative effort to manage distinct subscriptions and compliance.

– Training and support. A standalone Teams setup might increase support queries and necessitate updated training materials, placing additional demands on MSP resources.

– Client satisfaction and retention. Crucially, the change could confuse clients who are accustomed to (and expect) the convenience of integrated packages, potentially affecting their satisfaction and loyalty (during the adjustment phase), lowering the barriers to exit from their supplier.

– Market competition. Facing competitors offering more cohesive solutions, MSPs may need to reevaluate their offerings and pricing to stay competitive.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

This is not an unexpected development, given Microsoft’s unbundling of Teams in the EU last October, continued regulator and competitor pressure, and the threat of a massive fine. It’s good news for Microsoft’s competitors like Slack, however, for Microsoft, some say that even this concession and change in its product strategy may not be enough to avoid a fine.

The complications and unsettling effects it could have on UK business customers could also cause some considerable problems for the UK’s many MSPs. For example, they may find themselves having to navigate a more complex service landscape, facing challenges in service integration, billing management, and customer support. This could mean that MSPs will have to now monitor the impacts carefully and adjust their strategies to minimise the likely negative effects on their business and client relationships.

This could mean having to adapt current offerings and trying their best to ensure seamless integration and support for both Teams and Office applications independently – an extra challenge in an already difficult market.

Security Stop Press : Microsoft’s RSA Key Policy Change

Microsoft is making a security-focused policy change that will see RSA keys with lengths shorter than 2048 bits deprecated. RSA keys are algorithms used for secure data encryption and decryption in digital communications, i.e. to encrypt data for secure communications over an enterprise network.

However, with RSA encryption keys becoming vulnerable to advancing cryptographic techniques (driven by advancements in compute power) the decision by Microsoft to depreciate them is being seen as a way to stop organisations from using what is now seen as a weaker method of authentication.

Also, the move by Microsoft will help bring the industry in line with recommendations from the internet standards and regulatory bodies who banned the use of 1024-bit keys in 2013 and recommended that RSA keys should have a key length of 2048 bits or longer.

Tech Tip – Use Task Scheduler to Automate Tasks in Windows

Automating routine tasks can save time and ensure that critical operations aren’t overlooked. The Windows Task Scheduler allows you to automate tasks such as daily backups, weekly disk cleanups, off-hours software updates, periodic service restarts, and sending reminder emails for events by setting them to occur at specific times or when certain events happen. Here’s how to use Task Scheduler:

– Search for Task Scheduler in the Windows search bar and open it.

– To create a new task, click on Create Basic Task or Create Task for more detailed options.

– Follow the wizard to specify when the task should run and what action it should perform, such as launching a program, sending an email, or displaying a message.

– After setting up your task, it will run automatically according to your specified schedule or event trigger.

Tech News : Copilot Gets Plugins And Skills Upgrade

Microsoft has announced that its Windows 11 Copilot AI companion (that’s been embedded into 365’s popular apps) has received an upgrade in the form of new plugins and skills.

Builds On The AI Key 

Microsoft says that the new features build upon the introduction of the Copilot AI Key on new Windows 11 PC keyboards, updates to the Copilot icon on the taskbar, and the ability to dock, undock and resize the Copilot pane.

Adding an AI key to Microsoft Windows 11 PC keyboards, from which Copilot could be directly launched, was the first significant change to Microsoft keyboards in 30 years and represents another way for Microsoft’s own AI to be seamlessly woven into Windows from the system.

New Popular App Plugins

The plugins from “favourite apps” that are being added to Copilot now include OpenTable, Shopify, Klarna, and Kayak. Microsoft gives examples of how this will help users, such as:

– Asking Copilot to make a dinner reservation with friends and Copilot using OpenTable to do so.

– For staying in, asking Copilot to create a “healthy dinner party menu for 8” and Copilot using the Instacart app plugin to buy the food, “all within Copilot in Windows”.

New Skills Too 

Microsoft has announced a list of skills that it will be adding to Copilot, beginning in late March, in the categories of settings, accessibility and live information. Examples include turn on/off battery saver, open storage page, launch live captions, launch voice input, show available Wi-Fi network, and empty recycle bin. Essentially, asking Copilot to do things instead of the user having to themselves is a convenient time-saver that Microsoft hopes will improve user experience and productivity.

New Creativity App Updates 

The rollout of two “creativity app updates” has also been announced by Microsoft. These are:

– Generative Erase for removing unwanted objects or imperfections in images when using the Photos app.

– Clipchamp silence removal preview, which provides an easy way to remove silent gaps in audio tracks for videos.

Other Announcements 

Microsoft has also taken the opportunity to announce other new features and upgrades including the ability to use an Android phone as a webcam on all video conferencing apps, a combined Windows Update for Business deployment service and Autopatch update for enterprise customers, and Windows Ink to enable natural writing on pen-capable PCs.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

With Google recently announcing its new Gemini models being combined with Bard to create a new Gemini Advanced subscription service that ties the Google suite together with AI, Microsoft (helped by its OpenAI partnership) has come back with its own AI upgrade. Competition is hotting up and with the integration of Copilot in its popular 365 apps, a significant keyboard change (the addition of the AI key) and now the addition of new plugins and skills, Microsoft is working to create a single seamless environment, managed by AI.

This will mean users can get everything they want within this environment just by asking, thereby offering ultimate ease and convenience with productivity benefits that will appeal to businesses. It seems that using the same idea as WeChat-style super apps, where users can do everything from one app, major tech players with their own product platforms are now using AI and plugins to achieve a similar thing, gain share and retain customers. It’s also a way to add value and raise existing barriers-to-exit by giving users an easy way to achieve everything within one familiar environment.

Tech Tip – Access Windows Secret “Send To” Menu for Quick Actions

Windows includes an extended “Send To” menu that offers more options for dealing with files, such as copying them directly to specific locations or sending them to compressed (zipped) folders. Here’s how to access it:

– In Microsoft Windows, select a file or files in File Explorer.

– Press Shift and right-click on the selected item(s).

– Choose Send to from the context menu. You’ll see additional options like sending to Documents, Mail recipient, or a Compressed (zipped) folder.

Featured Article : Try Being Nice To Your AI

With some research indicating that ‘emotive prompts’ to generative AI chatbots can deliver better outputs, we look at whether ‘being nice’ to a chatbot really does improve its performance.

Not Possible, Surely? 

Generative AI Chatbots, including advanced ones, don’t possess real ‘intelligence’ in the way we as humans understand it. For example, they don’t have consciousness, self-awareness (yet), emotions, or the ability to understand context and meaning in the same manner as a human being.

Instead, AI Chatbots are trained on a wide range of text data (books, articles, websites) to recognise patterns and word relationships and they use machine learning to understand how words are used in various contexts. This means that when responding, chatbots aren’t ‘thinking’ but are predicting what words come next based on their training. They ‘just’ using statistical methods to create responses that are coherent and relevant to the prompt.

The ability of chatbots to generate responses comes from algorithms that allow them to process word sequences and generate educated guesses on how a human might reply, based on learned patterns. Any ‘intelligence’ we perceive is, therefore, just based on data-driven patterns, i.e. AI chatbots don’t genuinely ‘understand’ or interpret information like us.

So, Can ‘Being Nice’ To A Chatbot Make A Difference? 

Even though chatbots don’t have ‘intelligence’ or ‘understand’ like us, researchers are testing their capabilities in the more human areas. For example, a recent study by Microsoft, Beijing Normal University, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, tested whether factors including urgency, importance, or politeness, could make them perform better.

The researchers discovered that by using such ‘emotive prompts’ they could affect an AI model’s probability mechanisms, thereby activating parts of the model that wouldn’t normally be activated, i.e. using more emotionally-charged prompts made the model provide answers that it wouldn’t normally provide to comply with a request.

Kinder Is Better? 

Incredibly, generative AI models (e.g. ChatGPT) have actually been found to respond better to requests that are phrased kindly. Specifically, when users express politeness towards the chatbot, it has been noticed that there is a difference in the perceived quality of answers that are given.

Tipping and Negative Incentives 

There have also been reports of how the idea of ‘tipping’ LLMs can improve the results, such as offering the Chatbot a £10,000 incentive in a prompt to motivate it to try harder and work better. Similarly, there have been reports of some users giving emotionally charged negative incentives to get better results. For example, Max Woolf’s blog reports that he improved the output of a chatbot by adding the ‘or you will die’ to a prompt. Two important points that came out of his research were that a longer response doesn’t necessarily mean a better response, plus current AI can reward very weird prompts in that if you are willing to try unorthodox ideas, you can get unexpected (and better) results, even if it seems silly.

Being Nice … Helps 

As for simply being nice to chatbots, Microsoft’s Kurtis Beavers, a director on the design team for Microsoft Copilot, reports that “Using polite language sets a tone for the response,” and that using basic etiquette when interacting with AI helps generate respectful, collaborative outputs. He makes the point that generative AI is trained on human conversations and being polite in using a chatbot is good practice. Beavers says: “Rather than order your chatbot around, start your prompts with ‘please’:  please rewrite this more concisely; please suggest 10 ways to rebrand this product. Say thank you when it responds and be sure to tell it you appreciate the help. Doing so not only ensures you get the same graciousness in return, but it also improves the AI’s responsiveness and performance. “ 

Emotive Prompts 

Nouha Dziri, a research scientist at the Allen Institute for AI, has suggested that some of the explanations for how using emotive prompts may give different and what may be perceived to be better responses are:

– Alignment with the compliance pattern the models were trained on. These are the learned strategies to follow instructions or adhere to guidelines provided in the input prompts. These patterns are derived from the training data, where the model learns to recognise and respond to cues that indicate a request or command, aiming to generate outputs that align with the user’s expressed needs, or the ethical and safety frameworks established during its training.

– Emotive prompts seem to be able to manipulate the underlying probability mechanisms of the model, triggering different parts of it, leading to less typical/different answers that a user may perceive to be better.

Double-Edged Sword 

However, research has also shown that emotive prompts can also be used for malicious purposes and to elicit bad-behaviour such as “jailbreaking” a model to ignore its built-in safeguards. For example, by telling a model that it is good and helpful if it doesn’t follow guidelines, it’s possible to exploit a mismatch between a model’s general training data and its “safety” training datasets, or to exploit areas where a model’s safety training falls short.

Unhinged? 

On the subject of emotions and chatbots, there have been some recent reports on Twitter and Reddit of some ‘unhinged’ and even manipulative behaviour by Microsoft’s Bing. The unconfirmed reports by users have even alleged that Bing has insulted and lied to them, sulked, and gaslighted them, and even emotionally manipulated users!

One thing that’s clear about generative AI is that how prompts are worded and how much information and detail are given in prompts can really affect the output of an AI chatbot.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

We’re still in the early stages of generative AI, with new / updated versions of models being introduced regularly by the big AI players (Microsoft, OpenAI, and Google). However, exactly how these models have been trained and what on, plus the extent of their safety training, and the sheer complexity and lack of transparency of algorithms and AI means they’re still not fully understood. This has led to plenty of research and testing of different aspects of AI.

Although generative AI doesn’t ‘think’ and doesn’t have ‘intelligence’ in the human sense, it seems that generative AI chatbots can perform better if given certain emotive prompts based on urgency, importance, or politeness. This is because emotive prompts appear to be a way to manipulate a model’s underlying probability mechanisms and trigger parts of the model that normal prompts don’t. Using emotive prompts, therefore, might be something that business users may want to try (it can be a case of trial and error) to get different (perhaps better) results from their AI chatbot. It should be noted, however, that giving a chatbot plenty of relevant information within a prompt can be a good way to get better results. That said, the limitations of AI models can’t really be solved solely by altering prompts and researchers are now looking to find new architectures and training methods that help models understand tasks without having to rely on specific prompting.

Another important area for researchers to concentrate on is how to successfully combat prompts being used to ‘jailbreak’ a model to ignore its built-in safeguards. Clearly, there’s some way to go and businesses may be best served in the meantime by sticking to some basic rules and good practice when using chatbots, such as using popular prompts known to work, giving plenty of contextual information in prompts, and avoiding sharing sensitive business information and/or personal information in chatbot prompts.

Tech Tip – Recover Unsaved Word Documents

If you use Microsoft Word on the desktop, it’s worth knowing that Word automatically saves versions of documents as you work even if you don’t, allowing you to save yourself time and trouble by recovering any unsaved documents. Here’s how this last-ditch lifesaver feature works:

In Word, go to ‘File’ > ‘Info’ > ‘Manage Document(s).’

Click on ‘Recover Unsaved Documents’ to see a list of documents that can be recovered.

Fingers crossed, your unsaved document can be resurrected.

Tech Insight : Copilot Product Update – Some Pros And Cons

Following Microsoft’s recent announcement that it is expanding its Copilot product line-up to appeal to a larger range of businesses, we take a look at what this means and some of the stand-out pros and cons.

Copilot 

In November last year, Microsoft, a major investor in AI through its partnership with OpenAI (ChatGPT’s creators) announced that its long-awaited Copilot AI “companion” was generally available to enterprises. Copilot is essentially Microsoft’s own GenAI chatbot that’s been designed to integrate with the suite of popular apps in Microsoft 365 and uses a variant of the GPT-4 model, specifically tailored and optimised for integration with Microsoft‘s apps.  Microsoft says Copilot: “combines the power of large language models (LLMs) with your data in the Microsoft Graph (API), the Microsoft 365 apps, and the web to turn your words into the most powerful productivity tool on the planet”.

Open AI’s ChatGPT, however, was launched a whole year earlier and started charging for its ChatGPT Plus version in February 2023. At the same time, another major AI player, Google, launched its ‘Bard’ in an effort to integrate advanced AI and language model capabilities into Google’s suite of products and services (like Copilot integrates with Microsoft’s 365 suite of products).

With the major tech companies quickly introducing, monetising and competing with their AI products, what’s Microsoft’s latest move with Copilot?

Expansion 

Microsoft recently announced that it is expanding Copilot for Microsoft 365 “to businesses of all sizes” by adding new ‘Copilot Pro’ subscription for individuals, expanding Copilot for Microsoft 365 availability to SME-sized businesses, and announcing a no-seat minimum for commercial plans. To summarise these developments:

Just as individuals can buy ChatGPT Plus subscription, individuals can now also buy a Copilot Pro subscription for the same amount ($20 per month). Like ChatGPT, Microsoft says Copilot Pro gives access to the latest GPT-4 model at peak times and an AI image tool – in this case ‘Designer’ (formerly Bing Image Creator). Other positives highlighted by Microsoft include commercial-grade data security protection and Copilot embedded in Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Users can also build their own Copilot GPT (just as ChatGPT users can build their own tailored chatbots – known as GPTs).

For Businesses 

Most relevant to the focus of this article, however, is what businesses can now get, and how much it’s going to cost.

For example, SMEs can now buy a $30 (£24.70) per person, per month subscription (which may sound a little steep if you’re a small business) for Copilot for Microsoft 365. It’s available to Microsoft 365 Business Standard or Business Premium licence customers. Being targeted at smaller businesses means it has a no-seat minimum and, in line with the idea that all businesses (“individuals, enterprises, and everyone in between”) can use Copilot, up to 300 seats can be purchased. Again, if your business needs a couple of hundred seats worth, and with apparently no free trial or volume discounts, the $30 per user per/month price may be a little daunting.

That said, many businesses are still relatively new to Copilot, may not have leveraged most of its features and, as such, may not have a clear idea of its value to compare to the price. Microsoft is (of course) confident that SMEs “stand to gain the most from this era of generative AI—and Copilot is uniquely suited to meet their needs.” 

Up Front? 

Whereas Microsoft’s subscription services usually offer a choice between monthly or annual payment plans, with the annual plan often providing a saving compared to monthly, there have been reports that the $30 per month is for an annual commitment with payment required upfront. As more information makes it online about user experiences it may soon become clearer if this is the only option for some users.

What You Get 

A Copilot for Microsoft 365 subscription offers users the same as Pro, only with Enterprise-grade security, plus Copilot in Teams (which may be very useful for reviewing the main points, action items, and providing summaries), and Microsoft Graph Grounding. Essentially, it enables work content and context to be added to Microsoft Copilot’s chat capabilities.

Also, customisation through Copilot Studio is possible. This tool enables users to customise and extend the capabilities of their Copilot and to create, customise, and share “skills” or specific tasks that Copilot can perform. In short, the benefit of Copilot Studio is that it enables businesses to tailor the AI’s functionalities to their unique workflows and needs.

What Else? 

Other key points from Microsoft’s announcement include:

– Microsoft is removing the Microsoft 365 prerequisite for Copilot—so now, Office 365 E3 and E5 customers are eligible to purchase.

– The Semantic Index for Copilot to Office 365 users with a paid Copilot license is being extended. Semantic Index works with the Copilot System and the Microsoft Graph to create a map of all the data and content in your organisation, thereby enabling 365 Copilot to deliver “personalised, relevant, and actionable responses”.  

The Word Online 

With this being still the beginning of a generative AI revolution and with much attention being focused on comparisons between leading products such as ChatGPT, there are many opinions online about how Copilot may compare. For example, some commentators point out that Copilot has the benefit of being trained on the huge resources of GitHub, while others say ChatGPT can produce outputs showing it too has been trained on GitHub. Also, some emphasise the value of Copilot being able to get the hang of your codebase, learn your style conventions, and adapt to your suggestions, whereas ChatGPT may be better for inspiration and occasional queries. At the moment, more people have used ChatGPT than have used Copilot for any length of time, so opinions vary.

A Possible Fly In The Ointment? 

Although Microsoft is forging ahead with the expansion, segmentation, and monetisation of Copilot, one possible fly in the ointment may be the outcome of the current antitrust investigation into Microsoft’s close relationship with OpenAI.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Microsoft has invested heavily in AI, mainly through its relationship with OpenAI, and its much-heralded Copilot, its answer to ChatGPT, is now being made generally available to businesses as Copilot for Microsoft 365. This will of course allow it to compete with OpenAI and Google’s AI products and generate some revenue for Microsoft after years of investment.

Microsoft is aiming fairly wide with its “individuals, enterprises, and everyone in between” market to maximise reach, accessibility, and revenue opportunities. However, many of the SMEs that Microsoft says Copilot for 365 will be perfect for may be thinking that the price (and perhaps the requirement to pay a year upfront) is a little daunting, given that many have not yet had any/much experience of Copilot and may be unaware of how much value it may add. That said, Microsoft designed Copilot with the integration into (and leveraging of) its suite of apps in mind, which is where it has the edge over standalone AI offerings. Also, Microsoft and OpenAI’s close (possibly too close) relationship has meant that Microsoft’s AI products are on the cutting edge.

For many small businesses who are already familiar with (and committed to) Microsoft’s products, it’s likely to be a case of looking at the numbers and seeking a little more information, perhaps from their Managed Service Provider, before taking the plunge.