ChatGPT turns on red alert for Google search

Over the past three decades, a handful of products like the Netscape web browser, the Google search engine, and the Apple iPhone have truly disrupted the tech industry and made their predecessors look like awkward dinosaurs.

Last month, an experimental chatbot called ChatGPT was touted as the next big game changer in the industry. It can provide information in simple, clear sentences rather than just a list of internet links. Can explain concepts in ways that people can easily understand. You can even generate ideas from scratch, including business strategies, Christmas gift suggestions, blog themes, and holiday plans.

While ChatGPT still has a lot of room for improvement, its release prompted Google’s management to declare a “code red” emergency. For Google, it was like setting off a fire alarm. Some worry that the company is approaching a moment that the biggest companies in Silicon Valley fear: the arrival of a huge technological shift that could turn the industry upside down.

For more than 20 years, the Google search engine has been the world’s leading Internet portal. But with a new generation of chatbot technology poised to reinvent or even replace traditional search engines, Google could face the first serious threat to its core search business. A Google executive described the efforts as critical to the company’s future.

ChatGPT was launched by an aggressive research lab called OpenAI, and Google is among many other companies, labs, and researchers that helped build this technology. But experts believe the tech giant may find it difficult to compete with smaller, newer companies building chatbots because of the many ways technology can harm its business.

Google has spent several years working on chatbots and, like other big tech companies, has aggressively used AI technology. Google has already built a chatbot that can compete with ChatGPT. In fact, the core OpenAI chatbot technology was developed by researchers at Google.

Dubbed LaMDA, or Language Model for Dialogue Applications, Google’s chatbot received huge attention in the summer when an engineer at the company, Blake Lemoine, claimed it was sentient. This is not true, but technology has shown how much chatbot technology has improved in recent months.

Google may be reluctant to roll out this new technology as a replacement for online search, however, because it’s ill-suited to serving digital advertising, which accounted for more than 80% of the company’s revenue last year.

“No company is invincible; all are vulnerable,” said Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington specializing in the history of Silicon Valley. “For companies that have had tremendous success doing one thing that defined the market, it’s hard to have a second act with something totally different.”

As these new chatbots learn their skills by analyzing massive amounts of data posted on the internet, they have the ability to blend fiction and reality. Provide information that may be biased against women and people of color. And they can generate toxic language, including hate speech.

All of this could turn people against Google and damage the corporate brand it took decades to build. As OpenAI has shown, new companies may be more willing to risk claims in exchange for growth.

Even as Google perfects chatbots, it has to answer another question: Does this technology cannibalize the company’s lucrative search ads? If a chatbot answers questions in short sentences, there are fewer reasons for people to click on advertising links.

“Google has a business model problem,” said Amr Awadallah, who worked for Yahoo and Google and now runs Vectara, a startup developing similar technology. “If Google gives you the perfect answer to every question, you won’t click on any ads.”

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, attended a series of meetings to define Google’s AI strategy and interrupted the work of various groups within the company to respond to the threat posed by ChatGPT, according to a memo and an audio recording obtained from the New York Times. . Employees have also been tasked with inventing AI products that can create artwork and other images, such as OpenAI’s DALL-E technology, which is used by more than 3 million people.

Between now and a major conference expected to be hosted by Google in May, Google’s research, trust, and security teams and other departments have been redeployed to help develop and launch new AI prototypes and products.

As technology advances, according to industry experts, Google must decide whether to overhaul its search engine and turn a real chatbot into its core service.

Google is reluctant to share its technology widely because, like ChatGPT and similar systems, it can generate false, toxic, and distorted information. LaMDA is only available to a limited number of people through an experimental app, AI Test Kitchen.

Google sees this as a struggle to implement its advanced artificial intelligence without harming users or society, according to a memo seen by the Times. At a recent meeting, a director admitted that smaller companies have fewer concerns about implementing these tools, but said Google needs to step in or the industry could get along without it, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by the Times.

Other companies have a similar problem. Five years ago, Microsoft released a chatbot called Tay that spewed racist, xenophobic, and obscene language, and was forced to immediately remove it from the internet, never to return. Over the past few weeks, Meta has taken down a new chatbot for the same reasons.

Executives said in the taped meeting that Google intended to roll out the technology powering its chatbot as a cloud computing service for outside companies and could incorporate the technology into simple customer service tasks. It will maintain its trust and safety standards for official products, but will also release prototypes that don’t meet those standards.

Google can limit these prototypes to 500,000 users and warn them that the technology could produce false or offensive claims. Since its launch on the last day of November, ChatGPT – which can produce similar toxic material – has been used by more than 1 million people.

“A nice demo of a conversational system that people can interact with easily and sounds amazing? It’s a good step, but it’s not what will really transform society,” said Zoubin Ghahramani, who oversees the AI ​​lab. in an interview with the Times last month, before the launch of ChatGPT. “It’s not something people can reliably use on a daily basis.”

Google is already working on improving its search engine using the same technology that powers chatbots like LaMDA and ChatGPT. Technology – a “big language model” – is not just a way for machines to carry on a conversation.

Today, this technology helps Google’s search engine highlight results that aim to directly answer a question you’ve asked. In the past, if you typed, “Do beauticians stand up a lot at work?” on Google, it wouldn’t understand the question. Today, Google answers correctly with a short description describing the physical demands of life in the skin care industry.

Many experts believe Google will continue to take this approach, gradually improving its search engine rather than overhauling it. “Google research is pretty conservative,” said Margaret Mitchell, who was an AI researcher at Microsoft and Google, where she helped start their AI ethics team, and is now at the Hugging Research Lab. face. “Try not to disrupt a system that works.”

Other companies, including Vectara and a search engine called Neeva, are working to improve search technology in similar ways. But as OpenAI and other companies improve their chatbots, working to address issues of toxicity and bias, it could become a viable replacement for today’s search engines. Whoever arrives first can be the winner.

“Last year I was disheartened by how difficult it was to remove Google’s iron fist,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, who once oversaw Google’s advertising, including search ads, and now runs Neeva. “But technological moments like this create an opportunity for more competition.”

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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