Microsoft’s embarrassment over Recall fiasco gets worse as Windows 11 feature becomes the butt of Apple exec’s joke

Apple has the proverbial knives out for Microsoft when it comes to AI, landing a blow over the recent backtracking with Windows 11’s Recall feature for Copilot+ PCs.

You’ll likely have seen that Microsoft has had a turbulent time with Recall since announcing the feature, which takes regular screenshots of the activity on your PC to concoct a timeline searchable via AI – a powerful ability no doubt, but one which raised a whole bunch of security and privacy question marks. So much so that Microsoft pulled Recall from the launch of Copilot+ PCs, and put it back into testing for now.

In a video clip from WWDC 24 – which yes, was last week, but this footage only just surfaced on X – an Apple exec pulled no punches when the subject of Windows 11’s Recall feature came up.

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John Gruber (a well-known Apple pundit of Daring Fireball fame) asked a question about whether Microsoft’s mistakes with the initial incarnation of Recall are frustrating to Apple, as it tries to build trust in its own AI product (Apple Intelligence).

Apple’s SVP of worldwide marketing, Greg ‘Joz’ Joswiak, is in like a flash to clarify if Gruber means: “Are we pressured by the failings of our competitors?”

That gets a big laugh, and Joswiak follows up with: “The answer’s no.”

Analysis: Making the most of Microsoft’s mistakes

It’s not a surprise for Apple to land such a marketing blow, as Microsoft has very much left its guard down and is an open target right now in terms of its AI ambitions.

Microsoft making such a misstep with its key AI feature for Copilot+ PCs – Recall is the ace in its Windows 11 artificial intelligence pack – is pretty embarrassing. However, we are glad Microsoft has taken ownership of these mistakes and is attempting to rectify them – although it doesn't really have a choice not to. There wasn’t realistically any other way forward.

Gruber does make a serious point about how this could be damaging for the public trust in all manifestations of AI, though, even if Joswiak completely deflects that concern.

Fortunately for Apple, the company laid out its stall regarding tight security and privacy emphatically with Apple Intelligence. That includes keeping as much processing as possible on-device for AI workloads, and for tasks that need more muscle and are sent online, they go to custom-built Apple servers featuring a hardened OS, and contents not even the company itself can see (with your data being ‘cryptographically destroyed’ after the AI query is dealt with).

So, in some ways this is great timing for Apple, in terms of the revelation of Apple Intelligence, and explanation of how it’s watertight for security, while Microsoft appears to be blundering around with Recall.

And while we get Gruber’s point about wider trust issues, the hard reality is that AI is coming, and we don’t see this particular juggernaut losing momentum – and if Apple is positioned as the company to trust, the one that won’t play fast and loose with your data, that’s going to be a very comfortable position to occupy among the tech giants out there.

Via Windows Central

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Google explains why AI Overviews couldn’t understand a joke and told users to eat one rock a day – and promises it’ll get better

If you’ve been keeping up with the latest developments in the area of generative AI, you may have seen that Google has stepped up the rollout of its ‘AI Overviews’ section in Google Search to all of the US.

At Google I/O 2024, held on May 14, Google confidently presented AI Overviews as the next big thing in Search that it expected to wow users, and when the feature finally began rolling out the following week it received a less than enthusiastic response. This was mainly due to AI Overviews returning peculiar and outright wrong information, and now, Google has responded by explaining what happened and why AI Overviews performed the way it did (according to Google). 

The feature was intended to bring more complex and better-verbalized answers to user queries, synthesizing a pool of relevant information and distilling it into a few convenient paragraphs. This summary would then be followed by the listed blue links with brief descriptions of the websites that we’re used to. 

Unfortunately for Google, screenshots of AI Overviews that provided strange, nonsensical, and downright wrong information started circulating on social media shortly after the rollout. Google has since pulled the feature, and published an explanatory post on its ‘Keyword’ blog to explain why AI Overviews was doing this, as mentioned – being quick to point out that many of these screenshots were faked. 

What AI Overviews were intended to be

Keynote speech at Google i/o 2024

(Image credit: Future)

In the blog post, Google first explains that the AI Overviews were designed to collect and present information that you would have to dig further via multiple searches to find out otherwise, and to prominently include links to credit where the information comes from, so you could easily follow up from the summary. 

According to Google, this isn’t just its large language models (LLMs) assembling convincing-sounding responses based on existing training data. AI Overviews is powered by its own custom language model that integrates Google’s core web ranking systems, which are used to carry out searches and integrate relevant and high-quality information into the summary. Accuracy is one of the cornerstones that Google prides itself on when it comes to search, the company notes, saying that it built AI Overviews to show information that’s sourced only from the web results it deems the best. 

This means that AI Overviews are generally supposed to hallucinate less than other LLM products, and if things happen to go wrong, it’s probably for a reason that Google also faces when it comes to search, giving the possible issues as “misinterpreting queries, misinterpreting a nuance of language on the web, or not having a lot of great information available.”

What actually happened during the rollout

Windows 10 dual screen

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Dotstock)

Google goes on to state that AI Overviews was optimized for accuracy and tested extensively before its wider rollout, but despite these seemingly robust testing efforts, Google does admit that’s not the same as having millions of people trying out the feature with a flood of novel searches. It also points out that some people were trying to provoke its search engine into producing nonsensical AI Overviews by carrying out ridiculous searches. 

I find this part of Google’s explanation a bit odd, seeing as I’d imagine that when building such a feature as AI Overviews, the company would appreciate that folks are likely to try to break it, or send it off the rails somehow, and that it should therefore be designed to handle silly or nonsense searches in its stride.

At any rate, Google then goes on to call out fake screenshots of some of the nonsensical and humorous AI Overviews that made their way around the web, which is fair I think. It reminds us we shouldn’t believe everything we see online, of course, although the faked screenshots looked pretty good if you didn't scrutinize them too closely (and all this underscores the need to check AI-generated features, anyway).

Google does admit, though, that sometimes AI Overviews did produce some odd, inaccurate, or unhelpful responses. It elaborates by explaining that there are multiple reasons why these happened, and that this whole episode has highlighted specific areas where AI Overviews could be improved.

The tech company further observes that these questionable AI Overviews would appear on searches for queries that didn’t happen often. A Threads user, @crumbler, posted an AI Overviews screenshot that went viral after they asked Google: “how many rocks should i eat?” This returned an AI Overview that recommended eating at least one small rock per day. Google’s explanation is that before this screenshot circulated online, this question had rarely been asked in search (which is certainly believable enough). 

A screenshot of an AI Overview recommending that humans should eat one small rock a day

(Image credit: Google/@crumbler on Threads)

Google continues to explain that there isn’t a lot of quality source material to answer that question seriously, either, calling instances when this happens a “data void” or an “information gap.” Additionally, in the case of the query above, some of the only content that was available was satirical by nature, and was linked in earnest as one of the only websites that addressed the query. 

Other nonsensical and silly AI Overviews pulled details from sarcastic or humorous content sources, and the likes of troll posts from discussion forums.

Google's next steps and the future of AI Overviews

When explaining what it’s doing to fix and improve AI Overviews, or any part of its Search results, Google notes that it doesn’t go through Search results pages one by one. Instead, the company tries to implement updates that affect whole sets of queries, including possible future queries. Google claims that it’s been able to identify patterns when analyzing the instances where AI Overviews got things wrong, and that it’s put in a whole set of new measures to continue to improve the feature.

You can check out the full list in Google’s post, but better detection capabilities for nonsensical queries trying to provoke a weird AI Overview are being implemented, and the search giant is looking to limit the inclusion of satirical or humorous content.

Along with the new measures to improve AI Overviews, Google states that it’s been monitoring user feedback and external reports, and that it’s taken action on a small number of summaries that violate Google’s content policies. This happens pretty rarely – in less than one in seven million unique queries, according to Google – and it’s being addressed.

The final reason Google gives for why AI Overviews performed this way is just the sheer scale of the billions of queries that are performed in Search every day. I can’t say I fault Google for that, and I would hope it ramps up the testing it does on AI Overviews even as the feature continues to be developed.

As for AI Overviews not understanding sarcasm, this sounds like a cop-out at first, but sarcasm and humor in general is a nuance of human communication that I can imagine is hard to account for. Comedy is a whole art form in itself, and this is going to be a very thorny and difficult area to navigate. So, I can understand that this is a major undertaking, but if Google wants to maintain a reputation for accuracy while pushing out this new feature – it’s something that’ll need to be dealt with.

We’ll just have to see how Google’s AI Overviews perform when they are reintroduced – and you can bet there’ll be lots of people watching keenly (and firing up yet more ridiculous searches in an effort to get that viral screenshot).


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