Artificial intelligence (AI) is not new technology. For many years, tech pundits have been predicting an AI boom. However, last year, the emergence of ChatGPT turned that spark into an inferno. After it became the fastest platform to reach 100 million users, everyone else, including big tech firms, is trying not to get left behind.

Shortly after OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT, Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin allegedly came out of a half-retirement in an all-hands-on-deck emergency. The fuss wasn’t simply because this new ‘cool’ chatbot seemed to answer questions in natural conversation better than Google search. It was bigger. ChatGPT had the backing of another tech powerhouse: Microsoft. The company has pumped over $13 billion into OpenAI to use its smarts in Microsoft products.

Understandably, Google saw this move as a threat. The search ad business accounted for over half of Alphabet’s $283 billion revenue in 2022. So it had to move fast. And so Google announced its new AI chatbot, Bard (along with some AI features in search), one day before Microsoft bragged to the press about integrating OpenAI’s large language models (LLMs) and chatbot technology into its Bing search engine and Edge web browser. However, neither of them managed to deliver anything more than an underwhelming product.

Google described Bard as a “conversational AI service” that combines the depth of the world’s information with its LLM’s power, intelligence, and creativity to help deliver answers to inquiries. Like ChapGPT, Bard uses online information to give new, high-quality responses. But when Google posted a promotional demo video on its social media channels to demonstrate Bard’s capabilities, it didn’t receive the expected applause. The chatbot gave an answer that the public perceived to be wrong, costing the company $100 billion in market valuation.

If not for ChatGPT, Google would have continued to expand the use of LLMs behind the scenes to make its search features work better. The company was already using LLMs to help its search engine understand the intent of user queries. It planned to use LLMs to expand how we talk to a search engine. Google has been working on its Lambda chatbot for years. But before ChatGPT, it seemed to be in no hurry to release it as a stand-alone consumer-facing product.

It was also odd that Google would launch a chatbot giving incorrect answers because of the company’s history. Back in 1995, a new search site called AltaVista instantly retrieved pages from across the web in response to any text query, a feat that seemed incredible at the time. People were so dazzled that they tended to gloss over the fact that it often put terrible sites at the top. Three years later, Google’s breakthrough PageRank algorithm provided radically more relevant results, which is why Google is still with us, and AltaVista is not.

Microsoft did not have as much to lose as Google. Bing has been a distant second to Google’s search engine for years. But so far, it has pulled plenty of attention toward the search engine. Bing’s chatbot is currently available only by invitation, with more than 1 million people on a waitlist. But its current users have already started finding it to be not only inaccurate at times, but also obstinate, moody, and testy.

Notably, it’s not new to see big tech try to catch up with trends. Recently, we saw social media giants scramble to be the best imitators of TikTok. Today, we’re witnessing the AI wars, another hunt for virality. And we’re all waiting to see who wins or whether there will be any winners at all.

Elsewhere on Ventures

Triangle arrow