With AI technology accelerating at an unprecedented pace, Google, a titan in the internet search market, has set its sights on seizing the lead in the AI assistant domain.
In a strategic move, the company is reorganizing its virtual assistant unit, Assistant, to give precedence to its newest AI-powered chatbot, Bard, which has been met with a series of challenges and skepticism from experts and users alike.
I thought Google was being careful with releasing Bard (उर्फ़ LaMDA) because they were super concerned about the media amplifying weird answers. Never imagined they were holding it back because it was bad. And it is so, so bad.
— Aroon Deep (@AroonDeep) March 23, 2023
Google’s Ambitious Plan for Next-Gen AI Assistance
In February, Google’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Sundar Pichai, unveiled the company’s newest AI assistant,Bard, designed to interact with users conversationally similar to the explosively popular ChatGPT launched in November.
Pichai’s vision is to harness the power of Bard to enhance the online search experience for the millions of users who rely on Google’s search engine, which currently dominates more than 80% of the global internet search market, according to Statista.
Google has been hard at work in Bard’s development and testing phase, with over 80,000 of its employees participating in the testing phase.
However, Pichai acknowledged that the company was merely at the beginning of a long and arduous journey in the AI assistant arena, with much work to be done before Bard could be considered useful.
As Bard’s public launch commenced on March 21, Google described the AI assistant as “an experiment,” with initial tests rolling out in the U.S. and the U.K. In a bid to expedite the development of Bard, Google even initiated a “code red” effort, drawing team members from various departments to concentrate on the AI assistant project.
Code Red for AI Assistant: Prioritizing the Bard Project
Sissie Hsiao, Vice President and lead of Google Assistant’s business unit, outlined the comprehensive reorganization in a memo to employees, emphasizing the company’s commitment to prioritizing Bard.
“As the Bard teams continue this work, we want to ensure we continue to support and execute on the opportunities ahead,” Hsiao said in the memo. “This year, more than ever, we have been focused on delivery with impact to our users.”
As part of this restructuring, Jianchang “JC” Mao, who had been instrumental in shaping the Assistant we know today, is stepping down for personal reasons. Peeyush Ranjan, a 16-year Google veteran, will take Mao’s place, bringing his extensive experience from Google’s commerce organization to the AI assistant project.
The reorganization also entails new leadership roles for other key personnel. Amar Subramanya, Google Assistant’s engineering vice president, will now lead the Bard team’s engineering efforts, while Trevor Strohman, previously responsible for Bard’s engineering, will assume the role of Area Tech Lead, reporting to Hsiao.
In an email to Google’s staff, Pichai warned that as more people begin to use Bard, unforeseen issues may arise.
The CEO urged employees to remain vigilant, emphasizing that user feedback is critical for refining the AI assistant and the underlying technology. Despite Google’s dedication to unleashing Bard’s full potential, the AI assistant has faced its share of criticism and setbacks.
I was worried that AI was going to replace my job but after testing Google Bard, I’m relieved. We are safe! pic.twitter.com/0PPMByUhEI
— Consulting Comedy (@consultingcmdy) March 26, 2023
Bard to the Bone: Google’s AI Assistant’s Rocky Launch
In fact, Bard’s introduction to the world was tainted by controversy when the AI assistant made a factual error during its very first demonstration. Responding to a question about the James Webb Space Telescope, Bard falsely claimed that the telescope had captured the first-ever image of a planet outside our solar system.
The mistake was quickly seized upon by astronomers and astrophysicists on social media, who pointed out that the first exoplanet image was actually taken in 2004, as documented on NASA’s website.
Google’s Bard made a $100 billion mistake, knocking Alphabet shares down ~8% yesterday.
In an ad Google released Monday, Bard said the James Webb Space Telescope took “the very first image of a planet outside our solar system”—but that happened 17 years before the JWST launched. pic.twitter.com/Ftcnj19dDi
— Morning Brew ☕️ (@MorningBrew) February 9, 2023
This initial blunder dealt a significant blow to Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, causing it to lose a staggering $100 billion in market value. The setback also fueled concerns that Google may be losing ground to rival Microsoft Corp, which has backed OpenAI, a startup responsible for the development of the aforementioned ChatGPT software.
ChatGPT has captivated consumers and industry insiders with its well-written responses to simple prompts. Google, eager to reclaim its position in the AI assistant market, has been playing catchup ever since.
As the company navigates the treacherous waters of AI assistant development and faces fierce competition from industry rivals, it remains to be seen whether Bard can overcome its initial setbacks and emerge as the AI assistant par excellence.