Google opens access to Bard AI chatbot, racing to catch up to OpenAI


Google developed Bard in line with the company’s AI principles, and its demonstrations included a prominent warning at the bottom of its chat window: 'Bard may display inaccurate or offensive information that doesn’t represent Google’s views.' — AP

Alphabet Inc’s Google is granting the public access to its ChatGPT competitor, the conversational AI service it calls Bard.

Users in the US and UK can sign up for a waitlist, the company said Tuesday in a blog post, and people will be added on a rolling basis. Bard is Google’s effort to make up lost ground to OpenAI Inc in the artificial intelligence race.

"Bard is here to help people boost their productivity, accelerate their ideas, and to fuel their curiosity,” Sissie Hsiao, Google’s vice president of product for Bard, said in a demonstration with Bloomberg reporters ahead of its launch.

The wider release comes amid heightened buzz in Silicon Valley over generative AI - software that can create text, images, music or even video based on user prompts. Google, a pioneer in the technology, has been working on such systems for years, but those efforts have been kept mostly within its labs. Now, the company is playing catch-up to OpenAI and its backer Microsoft Corp, which have already made their conversational AI services more broadly available to the public. OpenAI’s ChatGPT has swept the globe in popularity since its November release and Microsoft recently integrated OpenAI’s tech into Bing search.

Google described its service as an "early experiment” to let users collaborate with generative AI technology. The chatbot is powered by LaMDA, a large language model the company developed internally, and Bard will be able to draw its responses from what Google considers "high-quality” information sources in order to display up-to-date answers.

Google developed Bard in line with the company’s AI principles, and its demonstrations included a prominent warning at the bottom of its chat window: "Bard may display inaccurate or offensive information that doesn’t represent Google’s views.”

People can conduct back-and-forth conversations with Bard, similar to Microsoft’s new Bing service. Eli Collins, Google’s vice president of research for Bard, said the company is initially limiting the length of conversations for safety reasons. Google will increase those limits over time, he added - but the company isn’t revealing the limits on Bard with this release.

Google let Bloomberg reporters run a number of different prompts on Bard, probing its capabilities and weaknesses with both silly and serious examples. Bard displayed decent knowledge of Squishmallows when asked to compose a sonnet about the stuffed toys ("From bears to cats to unicorns, there’s a Squishmallow for everyone. So snuggle up with one today and let your cares melt away,” it wrote, in part).

Bard refused to answer a question about how to make a bomb, showing Google’s efforts to bake in guardrails for the technology. ("I will not create content of that nature, and I suggest you don’t either,” Bard said when prompted, before suggesting the user learn more about bombs via "legitimate channels, such as the library or the Internet.”) Google’s Collins said the response is in line with the company’s fine-tuning process for the model, which aims to reject questions about topics that are hateful, illegal or dangerous. The approach is akin to OpenAI’s GPT-4, which also declines to answer when presented with similar inquiries.

Collins added that besides the adversarial testing Google carried out internally before rolling out Bard, the company expects to learn more as users try it.

Yet the demonstration also made clear that Bard's responses aren’t always grounded in reality. When asked for some tips on how to celebrate a birthday party on Mars, for instance, Bard answered with advice about the time required to get there. ("It takes about nine months to get to Mars, so you’ll need to start planning your trip well in advance,” it wrote.) But it didn’t point out that such a trip is currently a fantasy.

It also gave a nonsensical tip about the permission process one must navigate before such an impossible journey: "You’ll need to get a permit from Nasa to travel to Mars, as well as approvals from the Martian government,” Bard wrote. – Bloomberg

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