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February 7, 2023updated 09 Mar 2023 9:47am

Google takes on ChatGPT with new Bard chatbot and AI-powered search

The tech giant has been spurred into action by its rivals, and is promising AI-enhanced search and an API for developers alongside the chatbot.

By Matthew Gooding

Google has revealed details of Bard, a generative AI chatbot which it hopes will rival the popularity of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. The tech giant also confirmed it plans to embed more AI in its search engine to head off competition from Microsoft, which has ploughed billions of dollars into OpenAI.

Google is launching Bard, a ChatGPT alternative. (Photo by Thaspol Sangsee/Shutterstock)

Based on Google’s LaMDA large language model (LLM), Bard is currently being tested by a select group of users, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said, with a more general release scheduled for the coming weeks.

“Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence and creativity of our large language models,” said Pichai in a blog posted late on Monday. “It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses. 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.”

Will Google make Bard sing?

Pichai’s blog is light on detail of the system, and the fact Google is even announcing Bard’s existence while it is still ithe n testing phase is perhaps indicative of the pressure it is feeling after the viral success of ChatGPT. Released in November, the chatbot, which is based on a modified version of OpenAI’s GPT-3 LLM, has stunned internet users with its ability to generate detailed and accurate prose from simple text prompts.

It has been used to write everything from essays to news articles to code for programmers, as well as for nefarious purposes, with cybercriminals deploying the chatbot to generate new malware. Its potential applications in enterprise and consumer markets led Microsoft, which invested $1bn in OpenAI in 2019, to announce last month it was making a fresh multi-billion dollar cash injection, which will see the two companies work closely together, with ChatGPT running on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.

Users will be eager to see if Bard matches up to the power of ChatGPT. The LaMDA model is trained on some 137 billion parameters, while GPT-3.5, the basis for ChatGPT, has 175 billion, suggesting Google’s version could have a more limited scope. OpenAI is also thought to be working on GPT-4, the next iteration of its AI model, which is expected to have a significantly higher number of parameters.

Microsoft has also announced it plans to incorporate ChatGPT into its Bing search engine, leaving Google playing catch-up. Pichai told investors on the company’s earnings call last week that AI-powered search tools were in development, and yesterday he confirmed these will be rolled out “soon”.”When people think of Google, they often think of turning to us for quick factual answers, like ‘how many keys does a piano have?’,” Pichai wrote. “But increasingly, people are turning to Google for deeper insights and understanding — like, ‘is the piano or guitar easier to learn, and how much practice does each need?’. Learning about a topic like this can take a lot of effort to figure out what you really need to know, and people often want to explore a diverse range of opinions or perspectives.

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“AI can be helpful in these moments, synthesizing insights for questions where there’s no one right answer. Soon, you’ll see AI-powered features in Search that distil complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats, so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more from the web.”

Pichai added that Google would also be making a generative AI API available to developers from next month, allowing coders to access Google’s AI models. This will initially enable access to LaMDA, with further models to be added in due course.

ChatGPT leads a wave of AI chatbots

The success of ChatGPT has given rise to a wave of generative AI chatbots, which can potentially be deployed by businesses to simplify processes, deliver a better customer experience, and cut costs.

Widespread interest in the systems has provided a welcome boost to technology stocks which have been falling in value during the economic downturn. Reuters reported yesterday that shares in AI companies such as BigBear.ai and SoundHound enjoyed an extended rally. “Any company that mentions ChatGPT or something about AI, sees this rally … it’s just the hot buzzword of the month,” Dennis Dick, a trader at Triple D Trading, told the news agency.

With this in mind, it is not a surprise that other tech giants are looking to get in on the act. As reported by Tech Monitor, China’s Baidu has been working on its own chatbot, known as “Ernie Bot” as it is based on the company’s ERNIE LLM.

In a statement on Tuesday, Baidu said it planned to finish testing the chatbot next month, which means it is likely to be unleashed on users shortly afterwards.

Read more: Businesses struggle to turn data science into economic value

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