Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google Inc., speaks at the Google I/O Developers Conference in Mountain View, California, United States, Tuesday, May 8, 2018.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Google leaders continue to deal with fallout from last month groped announcement of the company’s artificial intelligence engine called Bard, but their efforts to clean up the mess are confusing the workforce even further.
At a town hall meeting on Thursday, executives took questions from Dory, the company’s internal forum, with most of the top-rated issues related to priorities around Bard, according to audio obtained by CNBC. This is the first company-wide meeting since Google employees criticized the leadership, especially the CEO Sundar Pichaifor the way he handled the announcement of BardGoogle’s competitor ChatGPT.
Wall Street punished Alphabet, Google’s parent company, for Bard’s rollout, driving the stock down over fears the company’s primary search engine could be relocated as consumers finally turn to answers fueled by the AI that enable more conversational and creative responses. Staffers called Google’s initial public presentation “rushed”, “sloppy” and “not Googley”.
Jack Krawczyk, Bard’s product manager, made his bare-knuckle debut on Thursday and answered the following question from Dory, which was seen by CNBC.
“Bard and ChatGPT are great language models, not knowledge models. They’re great at generating human-sounding text, they’re not good at making sure their text is fact-based. Why do we think that the great first application should be research, which at its heart is finding real information?”
Krawczyk responded by immediately saying, “I just want to be very clear: Bard is not a search.”
“It’s an experience that’s a collaborative AI service that we talked about,” Krawczyk said. “The magic we find in using the product is really in being that creative companion to help you spark the imagination, explore your curiosity, and so on.”
But Krawczyk was quick to follow up, saying, “We can’t stop users from trying to use it as a search.”
He said Google is still reaching out to people who want to use it for search, saying the company has created a new feature for internal use called “Search It.”
“We will try to get better at generating the queries associated with it, as well as conveying our trust to users,” Krawczyk said. He added that users will see a tab that says “show more drafts,” which will direct people away from search results.
“But since you want to get more into research-driven travel, we already have a product for that – it’s called research,” he said.
The attempt to separate Bard from research seemed to signify a pivot in the initial strategy, based on what employees told CNBC and internal memes that have been circulating in recent weeks. Prior to Bard’s announcement, Google executives repeatedly said technology they were developing internally would integrate with search.
Several Google employees, who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak on the issue, told CNBC that inconsistent responses from executives led to further confusion.
Elizabeth Reid, vice president of engineering for research, echoed Krawczyk’s comments on Thursday, focusing on the company’s extensive use of large language models (LLMs).
“As Jack said, Bard is really separate from research,” Reid said. “We have quite a long history of introducing LLMs into research,” she said, citing role models Bert and Mum.
But as the company experiments with LLMs, it wants to “keep the core of what research is,” Reid said.
In Google’s announcement last month, it mentioned search several times.
“We are working to incorporate these latest advances in AI into our products, starting with research,” the company said in a blog post.
That same week, at an event in Paris, Google search boss Prabhakar Raghavan unveiled some new examples of using Bard in research. And following the announcement, business leaders urged all employees to help out by spending a few hours testing Bard and rewrite wrong answers, citing a “great responsibility to get it right”.
CNBC also previously reported the company was testing various home search page designs built into Bard.
Another top-rated question on Thursday asked Pichai about different use cases for Bard, as Google employees were asked to help with search and “rewrite queries with factual information.”
“It’s important to recognize that this is experimental,” Pichai said in his response. “It’s very important to also recognize the limitations of these products.” These limitations are something he has addressed in the past.
Pichai said that with Bard, “you expose the ability for users to converse with LLMs,” which will improve over time. “And obviously we’re product engineering on top of that,” he said.
“Products like this get better the more people use them,” Pichai said. “It’s a virtuous circle.”
“It’s an intense period”
Following the launch of Bard by Google in February, Alphabet’s share price fell nearly 9%suggesting that investors were hoping for more in light of growing competition from Microsoft, which is a big investor in ChatGPT creator OpenAI.
Employees are well aware of how the introduction was received.
“The first public display was demoralizing, plunged our action and garnered massive media coverage,” read a comment from a Dory employee that was read aloud. Then came the question: “What really happened?” and the request to “please share your sincere thoughts on what went wrong when launching Bard”.
Pichai fired the response back to Krawczyk, who danced around the topic without giving a straight answer.
“Questions like this may be fair and we want to reiterate that Bard hasn’t been cast,” Krawczyk said. “We’ve acknowledged to the world that this is something we’re experimenting with – we’re testing it. But there’s a lot of excitement in the industry right now.”
Krawczyk also referred to an event held at Microsoft Headquarter this weekin which the company showed how OpenAI’s technology can power Bing search results and other products.
“See, the ChatGPT stories coincide with an event we’re doing that was actually research-driven,” Krawczyk said. “There may be challenges around external perception but, as you heard today, we continue to focus on Bard’s testing.”
Krawczyk added that Google is excited to put technology in the “hands of users to capture their creativity.”
Pichai chimed in to say, “It’s an intense time.”
“The point of the blog post was that once we decided we were going to trusted external testers, things could leak and it was important that we positioned that,” Pichai said. “We haven’t launched the product yet. And obviously at the launch we will specify that this is an experimental product.”
Pichai said the company hopes to provide more details after Google IO’s annual developer conference. Google has yet to announce the dates for the event.
Another comment from Dory’s top employee said, “The launch of AI seems like a knee-jerk reaction with no strategy.”
Pichai began his response by noting that Google spends more money on AI research and development than any other company.
“I disagree with the premise of that question,” he said, letting out a laugh. “We have been working deeply on AI for a long time. You’re right in the sense that we need to stay focused on the users and make sure we’re building things that have an impact.” He said, “User input is going to be a big part of the process, so it’s important to do well.”
Jeff Dean, Head of Artificial Intelligence at Google LLC, speaks at a Google AI event in San Francisco, California, U.S., Tuesday, January 28, 2020.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Jeff Dean, Google’s head of AI, was called by Pichai during the town hall meeting to answer a question about the loss of the company’s top talent. Specifically, the question asked why Google had lost so many key people who featured on an article about much of the AI technology behind Bard.
“I think it’s important to realize that this is an extremely competitive field,” Dean said. “People with these kinds of skills are in high demand.”
Dean said Google has “two of the best AI research teams in the world” and “people working side-by-side to advance the state of the art in AI.”
Despite the competition in the market, “we have the ability to publish articles in newspapers here, but also to work on products that reach millions of users every day,” Dean said.
Pichai added, “Over the past two weeks, we’ve been talking to people interested in joining Google who are literally some of the best ML researchers and engineers on the planet.”
A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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