Google’s Bard: AI chatbot makes $100bn mistake

An error during Google’s demonstration of its new ChatGPT rival instantly wiped 9% off the tech firm’s value

ChatGPT vs Bard
Bard made a factual error in an answer about the James Webb Space Telescope
(Image credit: Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Shares in Google’s parent company Alphabet dropped by 9% this week after a botched demonstration of its new AI chatbot, which instantly wiped £100bn (£82bn) from its value.

Alphabet had tweeted a video of Bard, its newly announced rival to ChatGPT, which it described as a “launch pad for curiosity” that could simplify complex topics.

In the video, the bot was asked to tell a nine-year-old about the James Webb Space Telescope and its discoveries.

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Bard replied that it was the first telescope to take pictures of a planet outside the Earth’s solar system. But astronomers quickly pointed out that the feat was first achieved in 2004 by the Very Large Telescope.

“Why didn’t you factcheck this example before sharing it?” Dr Chris Harrison, from Newcastle University, replied to the tweet.

Google has been “under pressure since late last year”, said the BBC, when Microsoft-backed OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT. The software “became a viral hit”, the site said, for helping people pass exams, write poems, dream up jokes and answer questions.

Microsoft announced this week that it will incorporate ChatGPT into its Bing search engine, “which has lagged Google for years”, said the BBC.

Google investors appear to have been rattled by the Bard demonstration, because of the error and because they “were disappointed as Alphabet failed to provide detail on how it will compete with Microsoft in this area”, This Is Money said.

The sharp dip in Alphabet’s stocks was directly mirrored by a leap in Microsoft’s share price, which rose by 3%.

The “costly blunder” was brought about by Google’s “haste” to catch up with Microsoft in the AI chatbot field, said Quartz.

Google still has a huge advantage over Microsoft in terms of its reach, tweeted Jim Fan, an AI research scientist at Nvidia. ChatGPT has built a user base of 100 million people as of 1 February, which, while impressive, is nowhere near the reach of Google, whose search engine crossed the 1 billion users mark years ago. “Unlike ChatGPT, Google doesn’t need to gain users. It just needs to roll out to its existing search box,” Fan said.

Whichever way it goes, the competition between the two experimental chatbots is going to be, in Fan’s words, “a dance of giants”.

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