Google executives say in an all-hands assembly that Bard AI is not only for search

Google Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai speaks during the Google I/O Developers Conference in Mountain View, California, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google Executives continue to grapple with the fallout from artificial intelligence company Bard’s fiddly announcement last month, but their efforts to clean up the mess are causing 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-voted issues relating to priorities surrounding Bard, according to CNBC’s audio. It is the first company-wide meeting since Google Employees have criticized leadership, particularly CEO Sundar Pichai, for the way they handled the announcement of Bard, Google’s ChatGPT competitor.

Wall Street has penalized Google parent Alphabet for launching Bard, pushing the stock down over concerns that the company’s core search engine may be ousted as consumers eventually turn to AI-powered answers that allow for more conversational and creative responses. Employees called Google’s first public presentation “rushed,” “botched,” and “un-googley.”

Jack Krawczyk, Bard’s head of product, made his all-hands debut Thursday, answering the following question from Dory, viewed by CNBC.

“Bard and ChatGPT are large 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. His heart is in finding true information?”

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

“It’s an experiment, which is a collaborative AI service that we’ve been talking about,” Krawczyk said. “The magic we find in using the product is really being that creative companion that helps you spark your imagination, explore your curiosity, etc.”

But Krawczyk was quick to add, saying, “We can’t stop users from trying to use it like a search.”

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

“We will try to better generate the related queries and instill our trust in the users,” Krawczyk said. He added that users will see a tab that says “View other drafts,” which would distract people from search-like results.

“But if you want to go more into search-centric travel, we already have a product for that — it’s called search,” he said.

The attempt to separate Bard from the search appeared to mark a turning point in the original strategy, based on what staffers were telling CNBC and internal memes that have been circulating for the past few weeks. Leading up to the Bard announcement, Google executives repeatedly said the internally developed technology could be integrated with search.

Several Google employees, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to comment on the matter, told CNBC that the conflicting responses from executives created 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 (LLMs).

“Like Jack said, Bard is really independent of the quest,” Reid said. “We have a pretty long history of getting LLMs into the search,” she said, citing models named Bert and Mum.

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

Google’s announcement last month 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 a search event in Paris, Google search chief Prabhakar Raghavan unveiled some new examples of how Bard could be used. And after the announcement, company leaders urged all employees to help by spending a few hours testing Bard and rewriting wrong answers, citing a “great responsibility to get it right.”

CNBC also previously reported that the company was testing various homepage search page designs built into Bard.

Another high-level question Thursday asked Pichai about various use cases for Bard, as Google employees were asked to help with searches and “rewrite queries with factual information.”

“It’s important to acknowledge that it’s experimental,” Pichai said in his response. “It’s very important to also recognize the limitations of these products.” Those limitations are something he’s addressed in the past.

Pichai said that with Bard you “offer users the ability to converse with LLMs,” which will improve over time. “And of course we’re still product development,” he said.

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

“It’s an intense time”

Following Google’s launch of Bard in February, Alphabet’s stock price fell nearly 9%, suggesting investors were hoping for more amid growing competition from Microsoft, a big investor in ChatGPT developer OpenAI.

Employees know exactly how the introduction was received.

“The first public demonstration was demoralizing, sending our stocks plummeting and generating massive media coverage,” Dory said in a staff commentary that was read out. Then came the question, “What really happened?” and the request, “Please share your open thoughts on what went wrong with the launch of Bard.”

Pichai referred the answer to Krawczyk, who danced around the topic without providing a direct answer.

“Questions like this can be fair, and we want to reiterate the fact that Bard hasn’t started yet,” Krawczyk said. “We’ve admitted to the world that we’re experimenting with it – we’re testing it. But there’s a lot of excitement in the industry right now.”

Krawczyk also referred to an event that took place at Microsoft’s HQ this week, where the company showed how OpenAI’s technology can power Bing search results and other products.

“You see, the stories from ChatGPT coincide with an event that we had that was actually search-focused,” Krawczyk said. “There may be challenges in terms of external perceptions, but as you heard today, we remain focused on Bard’s testing.”

Krawczyk added that Google is excited to put the technology “in the hands of users to capture their creativity.”

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

“The purpose of the blog post was that after we decided to go to external trusted testers, things could leak out and it was important that we position it,” Pichai said. “We haven’t launched the product yet. And of course we will make it clear at launch that this is an experimental product.”

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

Another highly rated employee comment from Dory read, “AI adoption appears to be a knee-jerk response 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 this question,” he said, letting out a laugh. “We have been working intensively on AI for a long time. You’re right in that we need to focus on the users and make sure we’re building things that make an impact.” He said, “User input is going to be an important part of the process, so getting it right is important.”

Jeff Dean, Head of Artificial Intelligence at Google LLC, speaks during a Google AI event in San Francisco, California, on Tuesday, January 28, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Jeff Dean, Google’s AI chief, was prompted by Pichai at the all-hands meeting to answer a question about the company’s loss of top talent. Specifically, the question was why Google lost so many key people who were listed in a paper on prominent architecture for AI.

“I think it’s important to recognize that this is a very competitive space,” Dean said. “People with these 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 opportunity to put things in papers here, but also to work on products that touch millions of users every day,” Dean said.

Pichai added, “Over the past few weeks we’ve spoken to a few people who want to be part of Google who are literally some of the best ML researchers and engineers in the world.”

A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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