As Alphabet throws its billion-dollar hat into the ring, the race is on to put chatbot AI on the map. The breakthrough technology made headlines last year when OpenAI’s ChatGPT tool went public, but how could this usher in a new age for internet search?
Let’s take a look at what the top dogs in tech are doing to make the AI industry’s next-best bot.
The influence of ChatGPT
Unless you’ve been living under a very remote rock, you’ll have noticed the massive uptick in AI interest that happened at the tail end of 2022.
Back in November, OpenAI released its free-to-use ChatGPT service to the public, just as other products like the image-generating DALL-E 2 and Midjourney were gaining popularity.
The conversational AI tool proved an overnight success, amassing over one million users in just its first few days and being hailed as the solution to all of its user's niche queries.
As AI climbs the ranks to potentially be one of the top investment opportunities of the 2020s, big tech companies across the board are turning towards research and development of their own search-focused chatbots.
Microsoft’s stake in OpenAI
The first of the big players to make significant investments was Microsoft. Following early funding rounds for ChatGPT parent company OpenAI, January 2023 saw Microsoft stake a further $10bn in the Californian firm.
And most recently, Microsoft has put its exclusive license to OpenAI’s products to work and started to integrate ChatGPT’s technology into its native search engine, Bing.
The new and improved Bing offers the same conversational means of finding new information as ChatGPT does, implemented to enhance search and the Edge web browser. While the platform is still in its preview phase, early users have described that Bing’s primary search function remains similar.
The ‘chat’ function, on the other hand, allows users to respond to the answer they get to their search query and request further context, ask for source citations, or demand tailored advice based on the information that the tool has retrieved from the web.
Over one million users have already joined the waitlist for Microsoft’s AI-charged version of Bing, which looks set to establish itself as the first ‘next-gen’ search engine.
Chat GPT’s threat to Google
When it comes to search, Google has been winning a one-horse race since it hit the tracks back in 1998.
Others have tried, but few have made a dent in the search engine dominance that has made Alphabet’s flagship brand one of the most powerful in the world. This makes Google a big obstacle standing in Microsoft’s way to achieving the biggest shake-up that the search space has seen in over a decade.
ChatGPT’s brand of bespoke, customized prompt responses has been touted by some as the ‘Google killer’, and in a bid to keep its enemies close, the tech giant has just announced its own rival chatbot, known as Google Bard.
Bard will supplement Google’s existing search results with a ‘chat’ feature of its own. While the Google product catalog in 2023 is extensive, some commentators are saying that this latest offering is the riskiest leap of faith that the company has made in some time — but a necessary one, nonetheless.
A rocky start for Google Bard
Google’s language model, LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications), has been in Alphabet’s multicolored pipeline for some time now. Yet with the prospect of its launch marred by concerns about monetization and response accuracy, Google has been holding off from a public release.
Or at least, it did until now. Microsoft’s steadfast backing of ChatGPT and the Bing relaunch may have forced Google’s hand, as plans have now emerged to release Bard to the public in the coming weeks.
So far, the campaign has already kicked off with a misfire of an ad spot posted online to promote Bard’s capabilities. When the AI was asked about the James Webb Space Telescope as part of a pilot demo, it came back with a detailed answer running through some contextual details about the famed NASA apparatus — including one response that was black and white factually incorrect.
Viewers were quick to notice, and investors quick to take heed; Alphabet’s shares dropped $170bn in value in the days that followed.
A premature rollout of a half-baked system could spell trouble — but Google has assured Reuters that the Microsoft competitor will be bolstering its feedback efforts before the system goes live.
A spokesperson explained, “we'll combine external feedback with our own internal testing to make sure Bard's responses meet a high bar for quality, safety and groundedness in real-world information.”
As it stands, Google has yet to be turfed out — no other search engine currently competes with its reputation and user base, and Alphabet will be keen to protect this.
What’s next for the chatbot wars?
A smooth launch from here on out will be vital for either company to wrestle power in the search space. As the public comes on board with the new era of search and begins to scrutinize the tools at its disposal, it looks like the showdown will be fought between Microsoft’s ChatGPT-backed Bing and Google’s LaMDA-powered Bard.
But are there any other competitors on the scene?
China’s largest search company, Baidu, has announced its own chatbot, known in English as Ernie Bot. The tool is set for public release following further internal testing and will join the fray vying for the public’s clicks in the coming months. Baidu hasn’t made as much noise in the global market as the two US-based players, however.
Otherwise, there are very few other bodies that could contend against the likes of Microsoft and Google. While Amazon has dipped its toes into conversational AI, its Amazon Lex system functions differently to search contenders.
Lex allows businesses to integrate customer support interfaces into their apps, but isn’t implemented in the same way that ChatGPT and Bard are to assist with search.
Commentators have noticed a marked silence from Apple — responsible for popularizing one of the original digital assistants, Siri.
Some outlets have reported that the Californian tech giant has been quietly preparing to launch a major new product, upping its data center facilities in the new year. Despite this, no official announcement or leaks have materialized, so for the time being, this is all hearsay.
“Hey Google, who will win the chatbot race?”
As it stands, the war looks set to be waged between Microsoft and Google, while Baidu could well have the Chinese market cornered. Each corp will be keen to set the ball rolling and establish a winner’s narrative — Bing wants to be the next-gen Google, and Google wants to cling to its crown.
Time will tell whether Bard’s early drop will cause problems, but at the current moment, the game is Google’s to lose as the reigning search superpower.
By Edward Coram James, CEO & Co- Founder, Go Up