Google is to make its chatbot technology available to the public in “the coming weeks and months” as it responds to the success of ChatGPT, a Microsoft-backed artificial intelligence chatbot that has become a global phenomenon after it was made available free of charge.
Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google’s owner, Alphabet, said the use of AI had reached an “inflection point” and the company was “extremely well positioned” in the field.
Pichai referred to two so-called large language models developed by the company, LaMDA and PaLM, with the former set to be released soon. This week CNBC reported that Google had begun testing an AI chatbot similar to ChatGPT called Apprentice Bard, which uses LaMDA technology.
LaMDA shot to prominence last year when Google suspended and then dismissed an engineer after he went public with claims that LaMDA was “sentient”. Google said Blake Lemoine’s claims about LaMDA – an acronym for language model for dialogue applications – were “wholly unfounded”.
Pichai said in a conference call with Alphabet investors on Thursday: “In the coming weeks and months, we’ll make these language models available, starting with LaMDA so that people can engage directly with them.”
Large language models such as LaMDA and the one behind ChatGPT are types of neural network – which mimic the underlying architecture of the brain in computer form – that are fed vast amounts of text in order to be taught how to generate plausible sentences. ChatGPT has become a sensation after being used to create all sorts of content from school essays to job applications.
Pichai indicated that chatbot technology would be integrated into Google as part of the rollout. “Very soon, people will be able to interact directly with our newest, most powerful language models as a companion to search in experimental and innovative ways,” he said. Last year Google released a set of LaMDA demos, available to small groups, as part of an “AI Test Kitchen”.
He also flagged the achievements of Alphabet’s UK-based AI unit DeepMind, saying its database of “all 200m proteins known to science have been used by 1 million biologists around the world”.
Analysts estimate that ChatGPT, developed by the San Francisco-based company OpenAI, has reached 100 million users since its launch on 30 November. Describing the growth as unprecedented, analysts at the investment bank UBS wrote: “In 20 years following the internet space, we cannot recall a faster ramp in a consumer internet app.”
Microsoft, one of OpenAI’s financial backers, is integrating ChatGPT into its products and has already launched a premium version of its Teams communications product, offering AI-powered extras such as automatically generated meeting notes. Microsoft is also expected to deploy OpenAI’s artificial intelligence models in its Bing search engine.
ChatGPT is an example of generative AI, or technology trained on vast amounts of text and images that can create content from a simple text prompt. OpenAI has also developed Dall-E, an AI-powered image generator.
Michael Wooldridge, a professor of computer science at the University of Oxford, said OpenAI had “put a firework” under big tech companies with the release of ChatGPT.
“They achieved that with a fraction of the number of employees of big tech companies, which must have caused consternation in Silicon Valley boardrooms,” he said. “My guess is we’ll see a massive pivot in other big tech companies towards large language models and generative AI – and a frantic rush to get products to market and secure a user base.”