Google is concerned about ChatGPT. According to reports, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin held several emergency meetings with company executives on Friday to discuss OpenAI’s new chatbot, which Google believes could threaten its $149 billion search business.
The large language model (LLM) known as ChatGPT, developed by OpenAI and released in late November 2022, astounded the world with its conversational ability to answer questions, generate text in a variety of styles, assist with programming, and more.
Google is now racing to catch up, with CEO Sundar Pichai declaring “code red” to encourage new AI development. According to the Times, Google hopes to unveil more than 20 new products this year, as well as a version of its search engine with chatbot features.
The NYT report quotes D. Sivakumar, a former Google research director, on the internal urgency of the situation: “This is a moment of significant vulnerability for Google. ChatGPT has staked a claim, saying, ‘This is what a compelling new search experience could look like.’”
ChatGPT, unlike Google search, uses natural language processing to understand the context of what a user is asking and then generates its best attempt at relevant answers. ChatGPT’s output isn’t always accurate, but its performance has been convincing enough to demonstrate a potential conversational search interface that would render Google’s technology obsolete.
Perhaps as a result of this, Microsoft is said to be working on a new version of its Bing search engine that will incorporate ChatGPT features. Microsoft made its first OpenAI investment in 2019, and it recently announced a new $10 billion round of funding.
Back at Google, Page and Brin haven’t been as involved with the search engine since they left their daily roles in 2019, but they’ve long advocated for incorporating AI into Google’s products. Their participation reflects the importance of the ChatGPT challenge within Google.
According to reports, Google has responded to OpenAI by introducing expedited product approval reviews and tools to assist other companies in developing their own AI prototypes. Google also provides image-creation technology to software developers and other businesses, in addition to its AI language model, LaMDA.
Some have questioned whether Google has been too cautious, concerned about the negative societal impacts or copyright implications of generative AI technology. Google appears to be aware of this reluctance, and the NYT report mentions that the company may “recalibrate” the level of risk it is willing to take with new AI technology.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman mocked this line in the NYT article in a tweet, saying that OpenAI aims to reduce the amount of risk the company will take while still shipping powerful new AI models.
Google says it is committed to AI safety, calibration or not. “We continue to test our AI technology internally to ensure that it is helpful and safe, and we look forward to sharing more experiences externally soon,” said Lily Lin, a Google spokesperson, in a statement.
However, while Google delays, the more agile OpenAI is shipping generative AI products that have the potential to disrupt not only Google, but the entire tech industry as OpenAI works toward its goal of developing ever-more-powerful AI technology. Google’s reaction to this existential threat may determine the company’s success for years to come.