It’s official: Google is working on a ChatGPT competitor named Bard.
Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced the project in a blog post today, describing the tool as an “experimental conversational AI service” that will answer users’ queries and take part in conversations. The software will be available to a group of “trusted testers” today, says Pichai, before becoming “more widely available to the public in the coming weeks.”
It’s not clear exactly what capabilities Bard will have, but it seems the chatbot will be just as free ranging as OpenAI’s ChatGPT. A screenshot encourages users to ask Bard practical queries, like how to plan a baby shower or what kind of meals could be made from a list of ingredients for lunch.
Writes Pichai: “Bard can be an outlet for creativity, and a launchpad for curiosity, helping you to explain new discoveries from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to a 9-year-old, or learn more about the best strikers in football right now, and then get drills to build your skills.”
Pichai also notes that Bard “draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses,” suggesting it may be able to answer questions about recent events — something ChatGPT struggles with.
The rushed announcement and lack of information about Bard are telltale signs of the “code red” triggered at Google by ChatGPT’s launch last year. Although ChatGPT’s underlying technology is not revolutionary, OpenAI’s decision to make the system freely available on the web exposed millions to this novel form of automated text generation. The effects have been seismic, with discussions about the impact of ChatGPT on education, work, and — of particular interest to Google — the future of internet search.
Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars into OpenAI, has also capitalized on the moment. The company is said to be integrating ChatGPT into its Bing search engine as well as other products in its suite of office software. Screenshots purportedly showing a ChatGPT-enhanced Bing leaked just last week.
Although Google has deep expertise in the sort of AI that powers ChatGPT (indeed, it invented the key technology — the transformer that is the “T” in GPT), the company has so far taken a more cautious approach to sharing its tools with the public. Google previously made LaMDA, the language model that underpins Bard, available via its AI Test Kitchen app. But this version is extremely constrained, only able to generate text related to a few queries.
Google, like other tech giants, has been wary of a backlash against untested AI. Large language models like LaMDA and GPT-3.5 (which powers ChatGPT) have well-documented tendencies to spew toxic content like hate speech and to confidently assert false information, so much so that one professor compared such systems to “bullshit generators” — hardly a laudatory description for technology some say should replace search engines. (Google itself explored the pitfalls of AI-accelerated search in 2021.)
The coming launch of Bard marks a step change in Google’s approach to this technology. In his blog post, Pichai stresses that Google will combine “external feedback with our own internal testing to make sure Bard’s responses meet a high bar for quality, safety, and groundedness in real-world information” — but it’s more or less guaranteed the system will make errors, perhaps serious ones.
In the meantime, Google is also stressing how it’s already building AI into its many products, including search. Over the past few years, Google has been using AI to summarize more and more search results, surfacing information from sites rather than allowing users to click and explore themselves. From Pichai’s post, it seems these features will become more prominent in the future:
Soon, you’ll see AI-powered features in Search that distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats, so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more from the web: whether that’s seeking out additional perspectives, like blogs from people who play both piano and guitar, or going deeper on a related topic, like steps to get started as a beginner. These new AI features will begin rolling out on Google Search soon.
As if that weren’t enough, Google is also holding an event focusing on AI, search, and more on Wednesday. Stay tuned to The Verge for the latest news — here before a chatbot can tell you (for now).