Ever since the conversational artificial intelligence (AI) ChatGPT took the world by storm with its impressive capabilities, all eyes have been on Google to see how the tech giant would respond to this apparent competitor to its dominance over search.
Enter Bard, Google’s own chatbot which Sundar Pichai, the company’s CEO, says “seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence and creativity of our large language models”.
Initially rolled out to a select group of "trusted testers" in February, Google announced on Tuesday March 21 it was allowing more people to use it via a waiting list.
The company, which is owned by Alphabet Inc, hasn't said how many people will be given access, and initial applicants will be limited to the US and the UK before it is offered in other countries.
Google has dominated Internet search for more than two decades now, so it is treading carefully with the rollout of its AI tools. If the technology doesn't behave as expected, it could harm the company's ad-driven business model.
Despite the technology's potential pitfalls, Bard still offers "incredible benefits" such as "jumpstarting human productivity, creativity, and curiosity," Google said in a blog post that two of its vice presidents - Sissie Hsiao and Eli Collins - wrote with assistance from Bard.
In a blog post announcing Bard back in February, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai started by talking up Google’s work on AI with its 2017 "field-defining paper" on Transformer technology, and its progress with diffusion models which he said are "the basis of many of the generative AI applications you’re starting to see today".
Those generative applications have been front and centre of the AI space for months, as text-to-image, text-to-video, and even text-to-music platforms have proliferated.
How does Bard compare to ChatGPT?
Bard is going to use information taken from the internet to provide “to provide fresh, high-quality responses," according to Pichai’s blog - but the current version is not connected to the Internet.
Like ChatGPT, it is trained on a huge data set that has a cut-off point.
Microsoft, which is a major investor in ChatGPT creator OpenAI, has recently launched an AI chatbot within its own Bing search engine. Powered by OpenAI technology, Bing AI is connected to the internet.
Users will have to wait and see how Bard compares once it is connected.
Like ChatGPT, Bard can explain complex subjects, such as outer space discoveries, in terms simple enough for a child to understand.
It can also perform mundane tasks, such as providing tips for planning a party, or lunch ideas based on what food is left in a refrigerator.
Google is making it very clear that Bard is in testing mode. When signing up, a message tells the user: "Bard is an experiment. As you try Bard, please remember: Bard will not always get it right. Bard may give inaccurate or inappropriate responses".
Users are advised to use Google search to check any responses they are doubtful about.
Bard's existence was announced less than two weeks after Microsoft disclosed it was pouring billions of dollars into OpenAI, a company it already had a $1 billion (€0.93 billion) stake in.
Many analysts believe AI technology will be as transformational as personal computers, the Internet and smartphones have been in various stages over the past 40 years.
Pichai has been emphasising the importance of AI for the past six years, with one of the most visible byproducts materialising in 2021 as part of a system called "Language Model for Dialogue Applications," or LaMDA, which will be used to power Bard.
Google also plans to begin incorporating LaMDA and other AI advancements into its dominant search engine to provide more helpful answers to the increasingly complicated questions being posed by its billions of users.
Without providing a specific timeline, Pichai indicated these tools will be deployed in Google's search in the near future.
In another sign of Google's deepening commitment to the field, Google announced last week that it is investing in and partnering with Anthropic, an AI start-up led by some former leaders at OpenAI.