ChatGPT lights red alert for Google search


Over the past three decades, a handful of products like the Netscape web browser, the Google search engine, and Apple’s iPhone have really turned the technology industry upside down and made those who came before them look like lumbering dinosaurs.

Last month, an experimental chatbot called ChatGPT was touted as the next big industry disruptor. It can provide information in simple, clear sentences rather than just a list of internet links. He 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 management to declare a “code red” emergency. For Google, it was like pulling the fire alarm. Some worry that the company is approaching a moment that Silicon Valley’s biggest companies fear – the arrival of a huge technological shift that could turn the industry upside down.

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

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

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

Dubbed LaMDA, or Language Model for Dialogue Applications, Google’s chatbot received huge attention in the summer when a company engineer, 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 hesitant to roll out this new technology as a replacement for online search, however, because it’s not 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 who specializes in the history of Silicon Valley. “For companies that became extraordinarily successful 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 huge amounts of data posted on the internet, they have the ability to blend fiction with fact. 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 has spent decades building. As OpenAI has shown, newer companies may be more willing to risk complaints in exchange for growth.

Even as Google perfects chatbots, it must address another question: Does this technology cannibalize the company’s profitable search ads? If a chatbot is answering questions with short sentences, there is less reason 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 that is developing similar technology. “If Google gives you the perfect answer to every query, you won’t click on any ads.”

Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, attended a series of meetings to define Google’s AI strategy and broke down the work of various groups within the company to respond to the threat that ChatGPT poses, according to a memo and audio recording obtained. by The New York Times. Employees were also tasked with inventing AI products capable of creating artwork and other images, such as OpenAI’s DALL-E technology, 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, industry insiders believe, Google must decide whether to overhaul its search engine and turn a full-fledged 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 biased information. LaMDA is only available to a limited number of people through an experimental app, AI Test Kitchen.

Google views this as a struggle to deploy its advanced AI without harming users or society, according to a memo seen by the Times. At a recent meeting, a director conceded that smaller companies have fewer concerns about rolling out these tools, but said Google must step in or the industry could go on 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 it was forced to immediately remove it from the internet — never to return. In recent weeks, Meta has taken down a new chatbot for the same reasons.

Executives said in the taped meeting that Google intended to launch the technology that powered its chatbot as a cloud computing service for outside companies and that it could incorporate the technology into simple customer support tasks. It will maintain its trust and safety standards for official products, but it 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 may produce false or offensive statements. 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 cool demo of a conversational system that people can easily interact with and it sounds mind-blowing? That’s a good step, but it’s not what will really transform society,” said Zoubin Ghahramani, who oversees the artificial intelligence lab. Google Brain, in an interview with the Times last month, ahead of the launch of ChatGPT. “It’s not something that people can reliably use on a day-to-day basis.”

Google is already working to improve its search engine using the same technology that underpins chatbots like LaMDA and ChatGPT. The technology – a “grand 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 “Are estheticians on their feet a lot at work?” on Google, he would not understand the question. Today, Google correctly responds with a brief blurb describing the physical demands of life in the skin care industry.

Many experts believe that 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 its AI Ethics team, and is now at the Hugging Face research lab. “He tries 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 toxicity and bias issues — 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 dislodge 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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