Google’s AI Chatbot ‘Bard’ Makes a Factual Error, Costing Alphabet $100 Billion...

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, saw a $100 billion drop in market value after Bard, its competing chatbot to Microsoft’s ChatGPT, made an error in an ad containing a demo.

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An ad that appeared on Google’s Twitter feed earlier this week promoted Bard as an “experimental conversational AI service.”

“Bard is an experimental conversational AI service, powered by LaMDA. Built using our large language models and drawing on information from the web, it’s a launchpad for curiosity and can help simplify complex topics.”

The tweet’s accompanying GIF provided a list of potential uses for the service, such as planning a friend’s baby shower, comparing two Oscar-nominated movies or getting lunch ideas “based on what’s in your fridge.”

The GIF then showed a user asking Bard, “What new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope can I tell my 9-year-old about?” To respond, Bard read off some of the telescope’s purported “discoveries.”

“Your 9-year-old might like these recent discoveries made by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):

  • In 2023, the JWST spotted a number of galaxies nicknamed ‘Green peas.’ They were given this name because they are small, round, and green, like peas.
  • The telescope captured images of galaxies that are over 13 billion years old. This means that the light from these galaxies has been traveling for over 13 billion years to reach us.
  • JWST took the very first pictures of a planet outside of our own solar system. These distant worlds are called ‘exoplanets.’ Exo means ‘from outside.’”

“These discoveries can spark a child’s imagination about the infinite wonders of the universe.”

However, a simple Google search shows that the James Webb Telescope did not discover exoplanets. According to NASA, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at The European Southern Observatory took the first photos of exoplanets in 2004.

Internet users pointed out the mistake, noting that Google could have checked the accuracy of the answer with its own resources. If you ask Google, “When was the first direct image of an exoplanet made,” Google outputs a highlighted answer quoted directly from the NASA page.

“2M1207b is the first exoplanet directly imaged, and the first discovered orbiting a brown dwarf. It was imaged the first time by the VLT in 2004. Its planetary identity and characteristics were confirmed after one year of observations in 2005. 2M1207b is a Jupiter-like planet, 5 times more massive than Jupiter.”’

Google executives, such as Senior VP Prabhakar Raghavan, told attendees at a launch event in Paris that Bard was the company’s future just hours after the advertisement debuted.

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“Let’s say you’re in the market for a new car, one that’s a good fit for your family. Bard can help you think through different angles to consider, from budget to safety and more, and simplify and make sense of them.”

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Alphabet’s stock dropped 7.7% during trading hours on Wednesday. On Thursday, shares fell as much as 5.1%, putting them on track for their worst two-day drop since March 2020. Meanwhile, shares for Microsoft rose by 4.2% on Tuesday.

Microsoft announced earlier this week that it would soon integrate ChatGPT into its search engine Bing. The company has been at the forefront of the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution that has recently swept Silicon Valley, with investors seeing AI as groundbreaking in search engines and other “personal assistant” platforms.

Since AI chatbots function like autocomplete, filling in blanks based on patterns pulled from a large data set, many ethicists fear that if AI becomes more widely used, it will facilitate more instances of plagiarism and misinformation.

In a Twitter thread, astrophysicist Grant Tremblay echoed the sentiment.

“Not to be a ~well, actually~ jerk, and I’m sure Bard will be impressive, but for the record: JWST did not take ‘the very first image of a planet outside our solar system.’ The first image was instead done by Chauvin et al. (2004) with the VLT/NACO using adaptive optics. I do love and appreciate that one of the most powerful companies on the planet is using a JWST search to advertise their LLM. Awesome! But ChatGPT etc., while spooky impressive, are often *very confidently* wrong. Will be interesting to see a future where LLMs self-error check.”

While the Bard engine will initially only be available to “trusted testers,” Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai announced in a blog post on Monday that it will be open to the general public in the coming weeks.

“We’re releasing it initially with our lightweight model version of LaMDA. This much smaller model requires significantly less computing power, enabling us to scale to more users, allowing for more feedback.”

“We’ll combine external feedback with our own internal testing to make sure Bard’s responses meet a high bar for quality, safety and groundedness in real-world information. We’re excited for this phase of testing to help us continue to learn and improve Bard’s quality and speed.”

He also provided insight into how Bard will be helpful in moments when there is “no one right answer.”

“Soon, you’ll see AI-powered features in Search that distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats, so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more from the web: whether that’s seeking out additional perspectives, like blogs from people who play both piano and guitar, or going deeper on a related topic, like steps to get started as a beginner. These new AI features will begin rolling out on Google Search soon.”

Pichai reaffirmed that the company is “committed to developing AI responsibly,” referencing a set of AI principles Alphabet published in 2018.

“The expanded reach of new technologies increasingly touches society as a whole. Advances in AI will have transformative impacts in a wide range of fields, including healthcare, security, energy, transportation, manufacturing, and entertainment. As we consider potential development and uses of AI technologies, we will take into account a broad range of social and economic factors, and will proceed where we believe that the overall likely benefits substantially exceed the foreseeable risks and downsides.”

The listed principles include being socially responsible, avoiding the creation or reinforcement of unfair bias, being accountable to people, upholding “high standards of scientific excellence,” and several others.

According to NPR, the rapid development of AI has coincided with widespread layoffs in the technology industry. Last month, Alphabet eliminated roughly 6% of its global workforce (roughly around 12,000 jobs).

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