Google's big reveal for its ChatGPT rival Bard was full of fear and FOMO

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Google's big reveal for its ChatGPT rival Bard was full of fear and FOMO
Brandon Wade/Reuters
  • Google is in a weird position after the release of ChatGPT by a rival firm.
  • It can't look like it's falling behind on AI. But it also can't release something that terrifies the public.
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Google is finally ready to show off its competitor to OpenAI's chatbot, ChatGPT. Just not to you.

On Monday, CEO Sundar Pichai announced Bard, Google's Shakespearean new AI service that will integrate some chatbot features.

The model, he said, will allow Google to not only answer basic factual questions like how many keys a piano has, but will come with deeper insights to boot; asking a Bard-infused Google if the piano is easier to learn than a guitar should prompt a genuinely smart response.

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Sounds impressive! But unlike ChatGPT, which has now amassed 100 million users, Bard will only be available to "trusted testers."

The key word here is "trusted." And Google doesn't trust you.

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Competition from OpenAI forced Google to release Bard

Google is in a weird position right now.

OpenAI, the startup behind ChatGPT, is bowling ahead with rolling out its scary-smart bot — despite issues around accuracy, latency, and an apparent lack of awareness around the second- and third-order consequences of its widespread use. It's announced a paid version. It'll do business plans. It's integrated its tech with Bing, Microsoft's lagging search competitor to Google.

On the one hand, Google has got to maintain an edge in any technology that could change search, its core business, and large language models will change search in a big way. It's a public company, so it must signal to mercurial investors that it's still number one in the market it dominates.

"While Bing today only has roughly 9% of the search market, further integrating this unique ChatGPT tool and algorithms into the Microsoft search platform could result in major share shifts away from Google and towards Redmond down the road," wrote Wedbush analyst Dan Ives in a note Tuesday.

Hence the FOMO Bard reveal — on the eve of a competing announcement from Microsoft to show off an AI-enabled Bing.

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On the other hand, Google has the bigger reputational risk if Bard is released to the world and Joe/Jane Public tweets about the bot being racist, sexist, or hallucinatory. OpenAI is a startup, it can move fast and break things. Google, in theory, can trigger investigations with a single product release. Its share price might tank.

This is also a make-or-break moment for public opinion in general towards AI. Microsoft and OpenAI giving people a first-hand experience of how AI will transform their online experience could go one of two ways: convincing the public that AI is a force for good, or terrifying them. For Google, which sees AI as "the most profound technology we are working on today," Bard can't be the latter.

And so: carefully vague wording from Google about making Bard "more widely available to the public in the coming weeks," and doing that in a "responsible way." It wants to show off its powerful tools, without opening them up too much.

It's as much about responsibility to Google's bottom line as to humanity — because humanity can't be trusted.

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