It feels as though Google is playing catch up at the moment when it comes to the ChatGPT-powered AI that Microsoft has introduced to Bing – but Google CEO Sundar Pichai says that his company's own Bard bot is going to quickly get more capable.
In an interview with the NYT's Hard Fork podcast (via The Verge), Pichai said that Bard was currently like a "souped-up Civic" taking on "more powerful cars" – but also that Google has "more capable models" that are going to get deployed in the coming days.
"We knew when we were putting Bard out we wanted to be careful," Pichai said. "Since this was the first time we were putting out, we wanted to see what type of queries we would get. We obviously positioned it carefully."
According to the Google CEO, more capable PaLM (Pathways Language Model) versions of the Bard chatbot will be rolled out "over the course of next week". That will mean Bard gets noticeably better at reasoning, and coding, and in other areas.
Slow and steady
Pichai's overall tone was a mixture of caution in terms of experimenting with what Bard could do, and excitement about where it could eventually end up. These "very, very powerful technologies" can be personalized to companies and people, Pichai said.
The Google executive also addressed data privacy concerns and worries about the pace at which AI engines like Bard and ChatGPT are progressing. Some of the most prominent voices in tech have called for a six-month pause on artificial intelligence development.
Pichai welcomes these sorts of discussions and wants to see governments setting rules: "AI is too important an area not to regulate," he told the podcast. "It's also too important an area not to regulate well. So I'm glad these conversations are underway."
The interview also touched on a variety of other areas, including how AI might impact jobs ("we all may need to course-correct in certain areas") and the content put out on the web ("we'll be committed to getting it right with the publisher ecosystem").
Analysis: lots of big questions
This latest podcast interview highlights just how many big questions there are over AI right now: how it will affect data privacy, the sorts of jobs it might make redundant, the impact it will have on publishers if Google and Bing are one-stop shops, and so on.
To be fair to Pichai, he dealt with those questions very sensibly – but that's not necessarily a guarantee that some of the worries we have over AI are going to go away. We're facing a gigantic shift in the way we live our lives and get our information over the web.
Pichai admitted that the tech is "going to be incredibly beneficial" but also "has the potential to cause harm in a deep way". It's good to acknowledge that, but companies such as Google are driven by profit and money making over any sense of moral obligation.
At least there's a conversation happening. "This is going to need a lot of debate," Pichai said. "No one knows all the answers. No one company can get it right. Am I concerned? Yes. Am I optimistic and excited about all the potential of this technology? Incredibly."