Google executives say Bard AI isn’t all about search in the face of all hands

  • After rolling out Bard as an AI service primarily for search, Google executives appear to be moving away from that focus without providing specific use cases.
  • In an all-hands meeting Thursday, executives tried to distinguish between Bard’s capabilities and search.
  • “I just want to be very clear: Bard is not search,” Jack Krawczyk, product manager for Bard, said in response to an employee’s written question.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Developers Conference in Mountain View, California, U.S., Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google executives continue to deal with the fallout from last month’s fumbled announcement of the company’s artificial intelligence engine called Bard, but their efforts to clean up the mess are creating further confusion among the workforce.

In an all-hands meeting Thursday, executives answered questions from Dory, the company’s internal forum, with most of the top-ranking issues related to the priorities surrounding Bard, according to audio obtained by CNBC. It is the first company-wide meeting since Google employees criticized leadership, particularly CEO Sundar Pichai, for the way they handled the announcement of Bard, Google’s ChatGPT competitor.

Wall Street has chastised Google parent Alphabet for the Bard rollout, pushing its stock lower on concerns that the company’s core search engine is at risk of being displaced as consumers eventually turn to AI-powered responses that allow for more conversation and creative answers. The employees called Google’s first public presentation “rushed”, “disrupted” and “un-Googley”.

Jack Krawczyk, the product manager for Bard, made his all-hands debut on Thursday, answering the following questions from Dory, as seen by CNBC.

“Bard and ChatGPT are big language models, not knowledge models. They’re good at generating human-like text, they’re not good at making sure their text is fact-based. Why do we think the big first application should be Search, which at its heart is shopping about finding true information?”

Krawczyk responded by immediately saying, “I just want to be very clear: Bard is not search.”

“There’s an experiment that’s a collaborative AI service that we talked about,” Krawczyk said. “The magic we find in using the product is really around it being this creative companion to help you spark your imagination, explore your curiosity, etc.”

But Krawczyk was quick to follow up by saying, “we can’t stop users from trying to use it as search.”

He said Google is still reaching out to people who want to use it for search, indicating that the company has built a new feature for internal use called “Search It.”

“We’re going to try to get better at generating the queries that are tied there, as well as relaying our trust to the users,” Krawczyk said. He added that users will see a tab that says “see other drafts,” which will steer people away from search-like results.

“But as you want to get into more of the search-oriented journeys, we already have a product for that — it’s called search,” he said.

The effort to separate Bard from search appeared to mark a pivot in initial strategy, based on what employees told CNBC and on internal memes that circulated in recent weeks. Ahead of the Bard announcement, Google executives repeatedly said the technology they developed in-house would integrate with search.

Several Google employees, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter, told CNBC that the inconsistent responses from executives have led to more confusion.

Elizabeth Reid, vice president of engineering for search, echoed Krawczyk’s comments Thursday, focusing on the company’s extensive use of large language models (LLM).

“Like Jack said, Bard is really separate from search,” Reid said. “We have a pretty long history of bringing LLMs into search,” she said, citing models named Bert and Mom.

But while the company is experimenting with LLMs, it wants to “retain the heart of what search is,” Reid said.

In Google’s announcement last month, it mentioned search several times.

“We’re working to bring these latest AI advances into our products, starting with Search,” the company said in a blog post.

That same week, at an event in Paris, Google search chief Prabhakar Raghavan unveiled some recent examples of using Bard in search. And after the announcement, company leaders urged all employees to help by spending a few hours testing Bard and rewriting wrong answers, citing a “huge responsibility to get it right.”

CNBC has also previously reported that the company was testing various Bard-integrated homepage designs.

Another top-ranking question on Thursday asked Pichai about different use cases for Bard, as Googlers were asked to help with searches and “to rewrite queries with factual information.”

“It’s important to acknowledge that it’s experimental,” Pichai said in his response. “It’s really important to recognize the limitations of these products as well.” These limits are something he has addressed in the past.

Pichai said that with Bard, “you’re exposing the ability for users to talk to LLMs,” which will improve over time. “And obviously we’re product development on top of that,” he said.

“Products like this get better the more people use them,” Pichai said. “It’s a good cycle.”

After Google launched Bard in February, Alphabet’s share price fell nearly 9%, suggesting investors were hoping for more in the face of growing competition from Microsoft, which is a major investor in ChatGPT creator OpenAI.

Employees are well aware of how the introduction was received.

“The first public demo was demoralizing, sent our stock into a tailspin and invited massive media coverage,” read one Dory employee comment that was read out. Then came the question “What really happened?” and the request to “share your honest thoughts on what went wrong at the Bard launch.”

Pichai referred the response to Krawczyk, who danced around the subject without giving a direct answer.

“Questions like this can be fair, and we want to reiterate the fact that Bard has not launched,” Krawczyk said. “We 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 referenced an event held at Microsoft headquarters that week, where the company showcased how OpenAI’s technology can power Bing search results and other products.

“You see the stories of ChatGPT coincide with an event we have that was actually focused on search,” Krawczyk said. “There may be challenges around the external perception, but as you heard today, we continue to focus on Bard’s testing.”

Krawczyk added that Google is excited to get the technology into “users’ hands to capture their creativity.”

Pichai chimed in to say, “It’s an intense time.”

“The purpose of the blog post was when we decided that we were going to go to external trusted testers, things could leak and it was important that we put that in place,” Pichai said. “We haven’t launched the product yet. And of course when we launch, we’ll make it clear that it’s an experimental product.”

Pichai said the company hopes to provide more details after Google IO, the annual developer conference. Google has not yet announced dates for the event.

Another top-rated employee comment from Dory said, “Launching AI seems like a knee-jerk reaction without a 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 this question,” he said, letting out a laugh. “We’ve been working deeply with AI for a long time. You’re right in the sense that we have to keep the focus on the users and make sure we build things that have an effect.” He said, “user input is going to be an important part of the process, so it’s important to get it right. .”

Jeff Dean, head of artificial intelligence at Google LLC, speaks during a Google AI event in San Francisco, California, U.S., Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Jeff Dean, Google’s AI chief, was called on by Pichai at the all-hands meeting to answer a question regarding the company’s loss of top talent. In particular, the question asked why Google lost so many key people listed on a paper on prominent architecture used for AI.

“I think it’s important to realize that this is a super-competitive field,” Dean said. “People with these kinds of skills are in demand.”

Dean said Google has “two of the best AI research teams in the world” and “people working side by side to push the latest in AI.”

Despite the competition in the market, “we have the ability to get things out in newspapers here, but also work on products that touch millions of users every day,” Dean said.

Pichai added that “Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked to some people who want to join 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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