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It is now safe to turn off your brain: Google CEO asked Bard to plan his dad's 80th birthday

Though he never said he went through with the idea to 'make a scrapbook'

How does Sundar Pichai – Google CEO, engineer, dreamweaver – think users could squeeze the most out of the company's Bard "experiment"? Well, he asked the AI chatbot to come up with ideas for his father's 80th birthday party.

Speaking to The New York Times' Hard Fork podcast last week, he discussed how he prompted early iterations of the LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) technology that underpins Google's work in conversational AI to respond as if it were the planet Pluto.

He said: "There were a couple of conversations you really got deeply into it being Pluto. Because Pluto is far out in space, it became really lonely. And you kind of can anthropomorphize some of this experience.

"I felt sad at that point talking to it. But I think the area where it shines the most is asking questions. Like, my dad is about to turn 80. And I was like, hey, what do I do with my dad on an 80th birthday?

"It's not that it's profound, but it says things and kind of sparks the imagination. In my case, it said, you should make a scrapbook. And I was like, great... It kind of oriented me a particular way."

The discussion also touched on how Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had characterized Google as the "800-pound gorilla" in the space that needed to be encouraged to come out and "dance" – that is, "to shake Google out of a stupor and force you all to innovate."

The two companies have gone toe to toe on the generative AI hype train, and Google has come out more bruised than it should like, with observers claiming the Chocolate Factory was slow to the draw on Microsoft's overtures toward OpenAI, the company behind the GPT large language models (LLMs) that have the world's collective knickers in a twist.

On the same podcast in February, Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott reached for an equally mundane use case to promote the new OpenAI-powered Bing – translating his daughter's "Gen Z slang," something that we demonstrated was probably more efficient to just run through Google's search engine.

The interviewers picked up on this, saying: "It strikes me that, 'what should I do for dad's birthday?' is a question that you also could have put into Google. And when you rolled out Bard, the company was careful to say, this is not a replacement for search... So as somebody who runs the biggest search engine, how do you feel about that? And also, are these things just going to kind of merge over time?"

Skirting around whether AI chatbots would make the dominant search engine redundant, Pichai responded: "So to me, it looks so far from a zero-sum game, because it's such early stages of a new technology. And I think the best way we can approach it is really embrace it. We've been working on this for a long time. I view this as an iterative experience with users. We'll put stuff out. They will tell us what they want."

On the perception of Bard, which wiped billions off parent company Alphabet because of a factual error in a tech demo, being somehow less capable than Bing, which also happened to make similar mistakes, Pichai said Google was holding its cards close to its chest.

"It was an experiment. We tried to prime users to its creative collaborative queries, but people do a variety of things. I think it was slightly maybe lost. We did say we are using a lightweight and efficient version of LaMDA. So in some ways, we put out one of our smaller models out there, what's powering Bard. And we were careful.

"So it's not surprising to me that's the reaction. But in some ways, I feel like we took a souped-up Civic, kind of put it in a race with more powerful cars. And what surprised me is how well it does on many, many, many classes of queries."

But he warned: "We clearly have more capable models. Pretty soon ... we will be upgrading Bard to some of our more capable PaLM models, so which will bring more capabilities, be it in reasoning, coding. It can answer math questions better.

"To me, it was important to not put a more capable model before we can fully make sure we can handle it well. We are all in very, very early stages. We will have even more capable models to plug in over time. But I don't want it to be just who's there first, but getting it right is very important to us."

There's still a waiting list for Bard, but we do have access to Bing, so we asked the pole-position chatbot what it thought of Google's attempt. It said:

Google's Bard is an AI chatbot that uses Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) as its model, which has been fed trillions of words so that it can predict reasonable responses and maintain a conversation. It is similar to ChatGPT and is meant to function similarly to ChatGPT, with the biggest difference being that Google's service will pull its information from the web. However, a new study found that Google's Bard chatbot tends to endorse prompts about widely-known conspiracies and inaccurate facts, if those prompts asked the chatbot to role play or imagine.

Charming. We pointed out that Bing pulls info from the web too, at which point it went a bit batty and ended the conversation when we demanded to know which chatbot was better. Maybe we should have stuck to party planning after all. ®

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