Three weeks ago and experimental chat bot called ChatGPT was unleashed on the world. When asked questions, it gives relevant, specific, simple answers - rather than spitting back a list of internet links. It can also generate ideas on its own - including business plans, Christmas gift suggestions, vacation ideas, and advice on how to tune neural network models using python scripts.
Some even think it may supplant Google's search business, the NY Times reports.
Although ChatGPT still has plenty of room for improvement, its release led Google’s management to declare a “code red.” For Google, this was akin to pulling the fire alarm. Some fear the company may be approaching a moment that the biggest Silicon Valley outfits dread — the arrival of an enormous technological change that could upend the business.
For more than 20 years, the Google search engine has served as the world’s primary gateway to the internet. But with a new kind of chat bot technology poised to reinvent or even replace traditional search engines, Google could face the first serious threat to its main search business. One Google executive described the efforts as make or break for Google’s future. -NYT
ChatGPT was produced by a research lab known as OpenAI - which employs technology and knowledge that Google and many other companies have helped cultivate. In fact, the core technology behind ChatGPT was developed by researchers at Google.
Now, experts think Google might struggle to compete with these smaller companies offering machine learning chat bots, as they may prove damaging to its business model.
Google has its own chat bot - LaMDA, or Language Model for Dialogue Applications, which gained attention over the summer when former Google engineer, Blake Lemione, suggested that it was sentient. That said, the Silicon Valley giant may be reluctant to deploy the new tech as a replacement for its search service, because a chat bot AI may not be able to deliver digital ads as effectively - something which accounted for 80% of Google's revenue last year.
"No company is invincible; all are vulnerable," said University of Washington professor, Margaret O'Mara, who specializes in the history of Silicon Valley. "For companies that have become extraordinarily successful doing one market-defining thing, it is hard to have a second act with something entirely different."
What's more, AI chat bots may not be telling the entire truth - and can produce answers that blend fiction and fact due to the fact that they learn their skills by analyzing vast troves of data posted to the internet. If accuracy is lowered, it could turn people off to using Google to find answers.
Or, more likely, an AI chat bot may give you the correct, perfect answer on the first try - which would give people fewer reasons to click around, including on advertising.
"Google has a business model issue," said former Google and Yahoo employee Amr Awadallah, who now runes start-up company Vectara, which is building similar technology. "If Google gives you the perfect answer to each query, you won’t click on any ads."
Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, has been involved in a series of meetings to define Google’s A.I. strategy, and he has upended the work of numerous groups inside the company to respond to the threat that ChatGPT poses, according to a memo and audio recording obtained by The New York Times. Employees have also been tasked with building A.I. products that can create artwork and other images, like OpenAI’s DALL-E technology, which has been used by more than three million people.
From now until a major conference expected to be hosted by Google in May, teams within Google’s research, Trust and Safety, and other departments have been reassigned to help develop and release new A.I. prototypes and products. -NYT
According to industry experts, Google will eventually need to decide whether it will overhaul its search engine to incorporate (or evolve into) a chat bot as the face of its flagship service.
"A cool demo of a conversational system that people can interact with over a few rounds, and it feels mind-blowing? That is a good step, but it is not the thing that will really transform society," suggested Zoubin Ghahramani, who oversees the A.I. lab Google Brain, in a November interview with The Times. "It is not something that people can use reliably on a daily basis."