Google is sneakily testing its ChatGPT competitors

Feb 3, 2023
Updated • Feb 3, 2023

Google is experimenting with AI-powered chat tools that are expected to shape the release of a future public product. The testing involves a chatbot and a possible integration into a search engine. The Alphabet corporation is engaged in a top-priority project named ‘Atlas’ within its cloud division to compete with ChatGPT, the popular language chatbot that made a big impact when it was introduced to the public in the latter part of last year.

Google is also conducting experiments on a chatbot called Apprentice Bard, tasking employees with asking questions and receiving comprehensive answers. This utility is similar to ChatGPT. Another division of the company is testing a redesigned search desktop format that could facilitate an AI-driven Q&A style interaction.

Related: The White House says Google and Apple are anticompetitive

Recently, the company's leaders have been seeking more input from employees on these initiatives. Other media outfits like CNBC were given the opportunity to view the internal documents and subsequently interviewed sources to gain insights into the ongoing efforts. The product trials are a response to the outcome of a recent company-wide meeting where employees expressed worries about the company's competitiveness in AI, due to the swift rise of ChatGPT launched by OpenAI, a San Francisco startup supported by Microsoft.

At the meeting, Google's AI chief Jeff Dean told employees that the company has a higher level of ‘reputational risk’ in delivering incorrect information and thus is proceeding with caution, unlike a small startup. However, he and CEO Sundar Pichai hinted that Google may release similar products to the public in the coming year. Google's primary business is web search, and the company has always emphasized its role as an AI pioneer.

Google’s new Apprentice Bard

One of the test products is a chatbot named Apprentice Bard that utilizes LaMDA, Google's language model for dialogue applications, for its conversational capabilities. One of the aforementioned internal memos stated, ‘As a result of ChatGPT, the LaMDA team has been asked to prioritize working on a response to ChatGPT.’ The email also advised that some employees may have to discontinue participation in unrelated meetings.

Apprentice Bard resembles ChatGPT as employees can ask a question through a dialog box and receive a text answer, followed by the opportunity to provide feedback. According to several responses viewed by CNBC, Apprentice Bard's answers can encompass recent events, a feature over which ChatGPT has a rather minimal grasp. 

Apprentice Bard has taken the place of Meena, an earlier iteration of a smart chatbot that was introduced internally but later discontinued. Employees have observed Apprentice Bard's responses becoming more sophisticated in recent weeks. For instance, an internal tester asked Apprentice Bard about the possibility of another round of layoffs at Google, following the company's recent layoff of 12,000 employees, or 6% of its workforce. The following is Apprentice Bard’s response: 

‘According to my data base access, it is unlikely for Google to conduct another round of layoffs in 2023,” the response reads. “Layoffs are generally conducted to reduce costs and structure, but the company is doing well financially. In fact, Google’s revenue increased by 34% in 2021, and the company’s stock price has risen by 70% since January 2022.’

What’s next for Google AI?

The company is also experimenting with an alternative search page that could employ a Q&A format, as per designs seen by CNBC. One design showed the main search page featuring five different prompts for potential questions located directly beneath the main search bar, replacing the current ‘I'm feeling lucky’ bar. It also showed a small chat icon on the far right side of the search bar.

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When a question is submitted, the search results display a gray bubble immediately below the search bar, providing more conversational answers compared to conventional search results. Directly under that, the page proposes several supplementary questions related to the initial query. Below that, it displays standard search results with links and headlines. However, as yet, it is uncertain which experiments Google intends to include in future product releases.

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‘We have long been focused on developing and deploying AI to improve people’s lives. We believe that AI is foundational and transformative technology that is incredibly useful for individuals, businesses and communities, and as our AI Principles outline, we need to consider the broader societal impacts these innovations can have. We continue to test our AI technology internally to make sure it’s helpful and safe, and we look forward to sharing more experiences externally soon.’

Source: CNBC  


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  1. Karlston said on February 3, 2023 at 9:25 pm

    If you’re going to insist on ruining readers’ focus with the related news links, at least make them actually related!

    What does Apple and Google being anticonpetitive have to do with Google and ChatGPT?

    Nothing… absolutely nothing…

    Again… by all means have them, but NOT within the content. At the start, at the end, out the side… anywhere else…

    Will be sad to remove gHacks from my daily reading list. You won’t miss me, but I’ll miss you and still wonder why you’ve decided to ruin at least this long time reader’s reading experience.

  2. Denn said on February 3, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    “Microsoft’s second-place search engine Bing is poised to incorporate a faster and richer version of ChatGPT, known as GPT-4, into its product in the coming weeks, marking rapid progress in the booming field of generative AI and a long-awaited challenge to Google’s dominance of search.”

  3. Tom Hawack said on February 3, 2023 at 2:26 pm

    “Google is holding an event about search and AI on February 8th – The Verge”

    That’s February 8th, 02:30pm CET (13:30GMT)
    It should be for what I know on []

    Wait and see what Google’s RED alarm about ChatGPT will become in terms of communication… and maybe in announcements.

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