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Google releases ChatGPT rival AI ‘Bard’ to early testers

A cursor moves over Google's search engine page.
Google’s new conversational AI service, dubbed Bard, will be ready for the public “in the coming weeks,” the company said.
(Don Ryan / Associated Press)
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Alphabet’s Google is getting its ChatGPT competitor ready for prime time.

The company said Monday that its new conversational AI service, called Bard, would be opening up to trusted testers and that it is readying the service for the public “in the coming weeks.” The service aims to generate detailed answers when given simple prompts, such as what to make for lunch or how to plan a friend’s baby shower.

“We’ll 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,” Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a blog post announcing the news. “We’re excited for this phase of testing to help us continue to learn and improve Bard’s quality and speed.”

Google’s release of Bard comes as the company is facing challenges to its flagship search business, which drives most of its revenue. Last week, Alphabet reported sales that missed expectations amid a digital ad slowdown and investor anxiety that wildly popular AI rivals, such as Open AI’s ChatGPT, could upend search. Last year, the company declared a “code red” in response to ChatGPT’s release — a move akin to pulling a fire alarm internally, which sent the company’s AI engineers scrambling for a response.

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Bard will be powered by LaMDA, a large language model developed by Google that stirred controversy in May when a Google software engineer publicly asserted that the AI was “sentient” — a claim that has since come under scrutiny. The testers Google selected for early access are a geographically diverse group of people outside the company who will help it improve and understand how regular users will encounter the AI service in real life, a Google spokesperson said.

Pichai has sought to emphasize the company’s progress in artificial intelligence amid heightened competitive pressure from other big tech peers. Microsoft Corp., which announced it is investing $10 billion in OpenAI, announced it is holding an event Tuesday at its company headquarters after Google made its announcement Monday. The software maker has been working on integrating ChatGPT into its Bing search engine to challenge Google’s search dominance, a person familiar with the matter said last month.

Alphabet’s Google has invested almost $400 million in artificial intelligence startup Anthropic, which is testing a rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, according to a person familiar with the deal.

Feb. 3, 2023

In addition to the release of Bard, Google will allow developers to tap into its language models to create their own applications. The company will begin opening up its Generative Language API to companies, developers and creators next month, Pichai said.

“Beyond our own products, we think it’s important to make it easy, safe and scalable for others to benefit from these advances by building on top of our best models,” Pichai wrote in the blog post.

Pichai touted the release of the company’s large language models in an earnings call last week. He added that users will soon be able to use language models “as a companion to search.”

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Last week, Google announced a partnership with the artificial intelligence startup Anthropic, which is testing its own chatbot to rival ChatGPT. Google has also invested close to $400 million in the startup, according to a person familiar with the matter. The deal gives Google a stake in Anthropic but doesn’t require the startup to spend the funds buying cloud services from Google, Bloomberg earlier reported.

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