The Ad for Google's New AI Chatbot is a Reminder Not to Believe Everything You See Online
Just a useful reminder!
On Monday, Google unveiled Bard, “an experimental AI service, powered by LaMDA,” which is short for “Language Model for Dialogue Applications.” The company’s announcement comes as Microsoft has teamed with OpenAI and its ChatGPT chatbot and China’s Baidu will be releasing its own AI-powered chatbot called “Ernie bot.”
The blockchain The metaverse Artificial intelligence is sure having a moment!
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But in announcing Bard, Google made a teensy bit of an unforced error.
Google plans to incorporate Bard into its collection of “everyday products,” such as web search. From the announcement:
One of the most exciting opportunities is how AI can deepen our understanding of information and turn it into useful knowledge more efficiently — making it easier for people to get to the heart of what they’re looking for and get things done. When people think of Google, they often think of turning to us for quick factual answers, like “how many keys does a piano have?” But increasingly, people are turning to Google for deeper insights and understanding — like, “is the piano or guitar easier to learn, and how much practice does each need?” Learning about a topic like this can take a lot of effort to figure out what you really need to know, and people often want to explore a diverse range of opinions or perspectives.
AI can be helpful in these moments, synthesizing insights for questions where there’s no one right answer. Soon, you’ll see AI-powered features in Search that distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats, so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more from the web: whether that’s seeking out additional perspectives, like blogs from people who play both piano and guitar, or going deeper on a related topic, like steps to get started as a beginner. These new AI features will begin rolling out on Google Search soon.
As an example, Google showed what a search might look like if someone were to type, “What new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope can I tell my 9 year old about?” once Bard had been integrated into the product. The result sure sounds impressive, rattling off a list of facts that sure sound like they’d be of interest to a 9-year-old. There’s just one problem: one of the results is flat-out false. Oops.
The third bullet point in the example result boasts that the “JWST took the very first pictures of a planet outside of our own solar system. These distant worlds are called ‘exoplanets.’ Exo means ‘from outside.’”
The first photo of an exoplanet was captured in 2004 by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. The exoplanet is called 2M1207b, and orbits the brown dwarf 2M1207. Space is neat!
This was all made a bit awkward by some of the language used in the announcement.
Immediately following an image captioned, “Use Bard to simplify complex topics, like explaining new discoveries from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to a 9-year-old,” Google’s announcement includes a paragraph about the importance of making sure “Bard’s responses meet a high bar for qualify, safety and groundedness in real-world information.” Whoops!
In fairness to Google, the company states over and over that this is still just in testing and that it is still making adjustments to improve the reliability of answers, but it’s still a bit awkward to include a wrong answer in the launch example.
Don’t believe everything you see on the internet.
As I was writing this piece, I saw this tweet from AFP Fact Check’s Nina Lamparski about photos claiming to show a police officer hugging a protester at a French rally yesterday. At first glance, they look like they could be real, but one thing stood out: the telltale AI-generated hand of the officer and his six-fingered glove.
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