DuckDuckGo, a search engine focused on maintaining user privacy, has revealed a new AI feature called DuckAssist that has just entered beta testing.
Right off the bat, we should clarify that this isn't a full-on chatbot like Microsoft's Bing AI which we've been hearing so much about lately, but rather an assistant that pops up to field some search queries.
As the company explains, DuckAssist is essentially a new form of 'Instant Answer' (in beta) that surfaces an immediate response to a question, if that query can be answered by Wikipedia. (Other sources will be used, such as Britannica, but it's mostly Wikipedia to start with, partly due to the regularity of its updates).
Natural language tech from OpenAI (which developed ChatGPT) and Anthropic is used to sum up what's found in Wikipedia (or elsewhere) and present the findings as a more natural and direct response. That response appears above the regular search results, so you'll see it first - and maybe it'll provide all you need to know. Or that's certainly the idea, anyway.
There's no requirement to sign up to use DuckAssist, maintaining the search engine's stance on privacy, and the assistant will be chiming in on search queries from today on a limited basis.
It's being trialed to begin with in English on the DuckDuckGo apps (for iOS and Android, plus Mac and Windows), and browser extensions (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari). You're more likely to see the AI assistant pop up if you phrase your search as a question, by the way.
If the beta test for DuckAssist goes well, DuckDuckGo says it will be rolling out the functionality to all users in the weeks ahead, so that's when it'll hit the main search engine web page itself. Apparently, this will be the first in a series of AI-assisted search engine updates.
Do note though, that as a beta, especially this early on, DuckAssist could deliver some wonky results. DuckDuckGo, however, seems to be starting at a sensibly small-scale here to avoid anything going too awry.
In what seems to be a shot fired at the Bing AI, which is a full chatbot experience - and went seriously off the rails in its early days - DuckDuckGo notes that it's "trying to understand the difference between what [AI] could do well in the future and what it can do well right now."
In other words, by keeping a much tighter rein on what DuckAssist is doing, it'll be easier to keep things running smoothly and avoid the negative PR that Microsoft has caught in some cases over the ChatGPT-powered Bing and its oddities. (Although naturally, DuckDuckGo doesn't even begin to have the same level of resources for all this AI fanciness that Microsoft has at its fingertips, anyway).
The latest controversy around the Bing chatbot - and there have been many in its short life thus far - is the apparent removal of the AI from the Windows 11 taskbar, with Microsoft clarifying that in fact it hasn't been ditched from the OS, just put in a rotation.