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AI arms race begins as Google and Microsoft make dueling announcements

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The AI ​​arms race between Google and Microsoft is in full swing as both companies herald new technology that they claim will change the way we search the web.

The companies this week announced new chatbot search engines powered by artificial intelligence – which provide longer contextualized answers in response to questions. On Tuesday, Microsoft held a big event at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, where Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella praised its chatbot search, based on technology developed by smaller AI company OpenAI. Meanwhile, Google appeared to be trying to push the announcement forward with its own unveiling of its chatbot dubbed “Bard” on Monday — something it demonstrated at an event in France on Wednesday.

“The AI ​​arms race between Microsoft and Google (and the rest of Big Tech) has begun,” Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, said in a Wednesday note.

The competition between the two tech giants reflects the excitement and hype around technology called generative AI, which uses massive computer programs trained on reams of text and images to build bots that conjure up their own content based on relatively complex queries. Google first unveiled its chatbot LaMDA in 2021, but didn’t make it available to the public. Last year, smaller AI company OpenAI made its chatbot ChatGPT and image generator DALL-E available to the public, sparking a burst of interest in the technology, which in turn prompted Microsoft and Google to release their products quickly.

Reporter Danielle Abril tests columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler to see if he can tell the difference between an email she wrote and ChatGPT. (Video: Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)

Now the tech giants are trying to provide the same kind of search experience, which has slowly transformed over the last decade to provide users with increasingly sophisticated answers. But experts warn that the widespread public availability of this kind of AI — which harbors biases based on the information they’ve been trained on and have been shown to consistently make factual errors and fabricate information — opens a potential Pandora’s box.

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Microsoft is already rolling out its tool – only available in the Edge browser – to select users. The technology is based on ChatGPT from smaller AI company OpenAI, with which Microsoft recently signed a multi-billion dollar deal. Google said its Bard search tool, powered by LaMDA, would be available in the “coming weeks.”

Microsoft, which has a small slice of the search market with its Bing engine and would need significant profits to catch up, still seemed to have impressed investors as Google’s share price fell nearly 8 percent on Wednesday.

Google’s announcement did not include an interactive demonstration like Microsoft’s. The chatbot also made a mistake in the example the company showed in its first blog post – falsely stating that the James Webb telescope was the first to take a picture of an exoplanet, when it was actually a different telescope.

Chatbots routinely make factual errors or mix incorrect information into their answers, a problem that skeptics of the technology say is clearly not ready for search engines to take up.

A Google search event held in France on Wednesday morning turned up no substantial new information about chatbot plans, potentially sparking further investor unrest.

When trying out Microsoft’s new AI chatbot search engine, some of the answers are uh-oh

Google and Microsoft have been using AI in their search engines for years to parse people’s queries, decide what content is best for what questions, and provide other services such as translation. But the chatbots are the first case of the companies using generative AI.

Both search engines moved away from the “ten blue links” model years ago, where they only provide links to other websites, and now often provide direct answers to questions about the weather, sports scores, and the ages of famous people. But some AI entrepreneurs believe generative AI will create a world where linking back to original source material becomes obsolete, with chabots like ChatGPT or Bard simply answering people’s questions directly based on the knowledge they’ve gained from the collective knowledge of the internet to suck up.

That raises concerns among Internet publishers that the new systems will simply steal their work and present it as their own, without sending traffic back to the original content creators. Google’s example didn’t show it citing sources, while Microsoft’s did.

But the technology is still very early days, and it’s likely that Google will cite sources and link back to the original authors when its bot officially debuts, said Ross Hudgens, a search engine optimization expert and CEO of Siege Media, a content marketing company. The company’s business model of getting users to click links to ads is too important to jeopardize, he said.

“Google needs to keep the experience of directing people to external websites,” he said.

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