Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Google lets more users access Bard

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Google said it’s allowing more people to interact with “Bard,” the artificially intelligent chatbot the company is building to counter Microsoft’s early lead in a pivotal battleground of artificial intelligence technology.

In Bard’s next stage, Google is wait-listing new users of an AI tool that’s similar to the ChatGPT technology Microsoft began deploying in its Bing search engine to much fanfare last month. And last week, Microsoft embedded more AI-powered technology in its word processing, spreadsheet and slide presentation programs with a new feature called Copilot.

Until now, Bard had been available to only a small group of “trusted testers” hand-picked by Google. The Mountain View, Calif., company, which is owned by Alphabet, isn’t saying how many people will be given access to Bard in the next step of the technology’s development. Initial applicants will be limited to the United States and the United Kingdom before Google offers Bard in more countries.

Google is treading carefully with the rollout of its AI tools, partly because the company has more to lose if the technology spits out inaccurate information or takes its users down dark corridors. That’s because Google’s dominant search engine has become a de facto gateway to the internet for billions of people, raising the risk of a massive backlash that could tarnish its image and undercut its ad-driven business if the technology behaves badly.

Despite the technology’s pitfalls, Bard still offers “incredible benefits” such as “jumpstarting human productivity, creativity and curiosity,” Google said in a blog post that two of its vice presidents — Sissie Hsiao and Eli Collins — wrote with assistance from Bard.

As a precautionary measure, Google is limiting the amount of interaction that can occur between Bard and its users — a tactic Microsoft has imposed with ChatGPT after media coverage detailed instances when the technology likened an Associated Press reporter to Adolf Hitler and tried to persuade a New York Times reporter to divorce his wife.

Google also is providing access to Bard through a separate site from its search engine, which serves as the foundation for the digital ads that generate most of its profits. In a tacit acknowledgement that Bard strays into manufacturing falsehoods, which are being called “hallucinations” in technology circles, Google is providing a query box connected to its search engine to make it easier for users to check on the accuracy of the information being displayed by the AI.

Bard made an embarrassing blunder shortly after Google unveiled the tool by prominently displaying a wrong answer about a scientific milestone during a presentation that was supposed to showcase its smarts.

The gaffe contributed to a nearly 8% drop in shares of Alphabet Inc., in a single day, wiping out about $100 billion in shareholder wealth and underscoring how closely investors are watching how Google handles the transition to AI.


Google has suspended PDD Holdings Inc.’s main Chinese shopping app after discovering malware in unsanctioned versions of the software. Google said Tuesday it is investigating the matter and suspended downloads of the Play Store version of Pinduoduo as a security precaution. Google didn’t mention Temu, PDD Holdings’ popular shopping app for the United States, which remains available to download.

The action is expected to cast a cloud over the company at a time when U.S. lawmakers have accused Chinese-owned apps such as TikTok of potentially threatening national security. While Pinduoduo is largely used in China, it’s rare for Google to freeze downloads of a major app of its size and scale.

In a statement, U.S.-based PDD Holdings strongly rejected accusations that its app was “malicious,” calling Google’s statement “nonconclusive” and adding that the company had suspended other apps apart from Pinduoduo at the same time. It didn’t identify those services.

“We strongly reject the speculation and accusation that Pinduoduo app is malicious just from a generic and nonconclusive response from Google,” the Chinese company said in an emailed statement. “There are several apps that have been suspended from Google Play at the same time and we find it peculiar that Bloomberg chose to single out Pinduoduo.”

Information for this article was contributed by Michael Liedtke of The Associated Press, and Sarah Zheng and Vlad Savov of Bloomberg News (WPNS).

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