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Google seems poised to unveil its ChatGPT rival

Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome, and Apps (Manu Fernandez / AP)
Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome, and Apps (Manu Fernandez / AP)

Google may soon allow the public to play with its answer to ChatGPT, the viral chatbot that uses AI to answer questions and complete tasks.

The tech giant is under pressure to come up with a response to the tool, which threatens to overshadow its dominant services, including Google Search.

ChatGPT users have asked the free bot for help with a range of queries, from writing emails to assisting with their homework, much to the chagrin of teachers. It has even passed exams at law and business universities in the US.

With interest in the tool refusing to die down, Google is planning to allow people to “interact directly” with its “most powerful” AI language models as a companion to Search, according to CEO Sundar Pichai.

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It’s unclear how the tool will work and how users will be able to interact with it on Search. The most immediate difference between ChatGPT and Google Search is that the former directly answers your question, while the latter provides search results for you to scour. Google’s latest AI model could even make an appearance at an event the company is holding on February 8, according to The Verge.

“Join us to learn how we’re opening up greater access to information for people everywhere, through Search, Maps, and beyond,” the company says.

Speaking during Google’s latest earnings call, Pichai said the first model people will be able to use will be LaMDA, the company’s conversational AI model. The company previously tested LaMDA as part of a writing tool that could generate prose, and through an app that let a limited number of users chat with the chatbot.

Though Google has added new AI models to its search engine in the past, these tend to work behind the scenes, resulting in little fanfare for its long-running utilitarian service. For instance, the company’s Multitask Unified Model, or MUM, is designed to reduce the amount of searches it takes to answer your question. It can also recognise both text and images, and up to 75 different languages, to deliver refined results, according to Google.

By comparison, AI company OpenAI made an immediate splash by allowing anyone to sign-up to use its free ChatGPT service when it launched late last year. Users quickly began sharing its impressive responses on social media, causing a snowball effect. The bot snapped up one million users in its first five days, according to its founder Sam Altman. Recent analysis suggests that number may have since ballooned to 100 million users.

Seizing an opportunity to compete with Google, OpenAI investor Microsoft recently began adding ChatGPT’s capabilities to its tools for businesses, including its Azure cloud service and a premium version of its Teams workplace chat software.

Still, it’s too early to count Google out of the chatbot race. As Pichai noted, its AI models will provide “up-to-date more factual information”, something ChatGPT can’t currently do as it has limited knowledge of world events after 2021.