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Google reminds everyone it too can launch a ChatGPT-like chatbot … waiting list

Meanwhile, Bing can now output images, Adobe touts shiny art platform Firefly

Google is offering Bard – its chat-driven rival to ChatGPT – to netizens in the US and UK who ask nicely.

Bard is derived from the web advertising giant's large language model LaMDA, and was built to compete with OpenAI's GPT series – the brains behind the chatbot interface for Microsoft's Bing search engine, 365 suite, and other applications. 

ChatGPT dominated headlines and took the internet by storm shortly after it was made accessible to world-plus-dog for free last November. Reports that Microsoft would incorporate a ChatGPT-like conversational system into its Bing search engine set alarm bells off at Google, and CEO Sundar Pichai declared a "code red" emergency.

Pichai ordered Googlers – unaccustomed to playing catch-up to Microsoft – to focus their energies on building an AI web search chatbot to one-up the ChatGPT-driven Bing.

Google is finally launching Bard, weeks after Microsoft unleashed its AI-enabled Bing to millions of users around the world. Bard was teased last month, with somewhat bittersweet results. Now Google thinks it's ready for the mainstream – ish.

"Today we're starting to open access to Bard, an early experiment that lets you collaborate with generative AI," Google's Sissie Hsiao, VP of Product, and Eli Collins, VP of Research, announced in a blog post.

Large language models are like prediction engines, the pair explained: "When given a prompt, it generates a response by selecting, one word at a time, from words that are likely to come next." The idea of such a beast is that rather than type in stilted keywords to search the web, you ask the bot questions in natural language. Theoretically it answers, also using natural language, drawing upon what it's learned from the 'net.

Since Bard is powered by LaMDA, it responds to input queries by predicting what response is most appropriate. As a non-intelligent information regurgitation engine, it doesn't really know the answer to a question, nor understand the actual problem – it just draws from what it was trained on, which is mountains of data sourced by Google.

And it can generate toxic text, make stuff up by getting its predictions horribly wrong, and spread inaccurate information – a property described as hallucination. 

"For instance," Hsiao and Collins said, "because [these kinds of bots] learn from a wide range of information that reflects real-world biases and stereotypes, those sometimes show up in their outputs. And they can provide inaccurate, misleading or false information while presenting it confidently.

"For example, when asked to share a couple suggestions for easy indoor plants, Bard convincingly presented ideas … but it got some things wrong, like the scientific name for the ZZ plant."

Small models of workmen cleaning up a computer motherboard with brushes

We read OpenAI's risk study. GPT-4 is not toxic … if you add enough bleach


Since Bard isn't perfect, users will see a few different responses generated by the chatbot and can pick the best one to follow up.

Google described Bard as a "direct interface" to its large language model and a "complementary experience" to Google Search. People should use Bard as a starting point when searching for information, and are encouraged to find more relevant sources on specific webpages, the biz said. 

Google fans in the US and UK can sign up to join a waitlist to use the system. The Bing bot was also initially made available via a waitlist. 

In the future, Google plans to make Bard run on more powerful and larger versions of LaMDA, as well as adding capabilities to generate code, images, and support for more languages other than English. ®

PS: How long before Google sends Bard to the Google Graveyard? The bot itself reckons it's already dead due to poor adoption.

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