How will Google solve its AI riddle?

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In the AI ​​arms race that has just erupted in the tech industry, Google, where much of the latest technology has been invented, should be well positioned to be one of the big winners.

There’s just one problem: With politicians and regulators on their toes and a hugely profitable business model to defend, the internet search giant may be hesitant to use many of the weapons at its disposal.

Microsoft issued a direct challenge to the search giant this week by sealing a multi-billion dollar investment in artificial intelligence research company OpenAI. The move comes less than two months after the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a chatbot that responds to queries with paragraphs of text or code, suggesting how generative AI could one day replace internet search.

With preferential rights to commercialize OpenAI’s technology, Microsoft executives have made no secret of their aim to use it to challenge Google, reigniting an old rivalry that has been simmering since Google won the search war a while ago. ten years.

DeepMind, the London-based search company that Google acquired in 2014, and Google Brain, an advanced search division of its Silicon Valley headquarters, have long given the search company one of the strongest footholds. stronger AI.

More recently, Google has been innovating with different variations of the so-called generative AI that underpins ChatGPT, including AI models that can tell jokes and solve math problems.

One of its most advanced language models, known as PaLM, is a general-purpose model three times larger than GPT, the AI ​​model that underpins ChatGPT, based on the number of parameters on which the models are formed.

Google’s LaMDA chatbot, or Language Model for Dialogue Applications, can converse with users in natural language, similar to ChatGPT. The company’s engineering teams have been working for months to integrate it into a consumer product.

Despite technical advances, most of the latest technologies are still only researched. Google’s critics say it’s hampered by its hugely profitable search business, which discourages it from introducing generative AI into consumer products.

Microsoft plans to use OpenAI technology in all of its products and services © Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images

Giving direct answers to queries, rather than just directing users to suggested links, would lead to fewer searches, said Sridhar Ramaswamy, a former top Google executive.

This left Google with “a classic innovator’s dilemma” – a reference to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s book that sought to explain why industry leaders often fall prey to quick upstarts. “If I was the one running a $150 billion company, I would be terrified of this thing,” Ramaswamy said.

“We have long focused on developing and deploying AI to improve people’s lives. We believe AI is a foundational and transformative technology that is incredibly useful for individuals, businesses, and communities,” Google said. However, the search giant “should consider the wider societal impacts these innovations may have”. Google added that it would soon announce “more external experiences.”

While leading to fewer searches and lower revenue, the spread of AI could also lead to higher costs for Google.

Ramaswamy calculated that, based on OpenAI pricing, it would cost $120 million to use natural language processing to “read” all of the web pages in a search index and then use it to generate more direct answers to questions that Internet users enter into a search engine. . Morgan Stanley analysts, meanwhile, have estimated that answering a search query using language processing costs about seven times more than a standard Internet search.

The same considerations could deter Microsoft from a radical overhaul of its Bing search engine, which generated more than $11 billion in revenue last year. But the software company said it plans to use OpenAI’s technology across all of its products and services, which could lead to new ways for users to be presented with relevant information when they are in other applications, reducing the need to access a search engine.

A number of former and current employees close to Google’s AI research teams say the biggest constraints to the company’s release of AI have been concerns about potential harms and how they would affect Google’s reputation, as well as an underestimation of the competition.

“I think they were sleeping at the wheel,” said a former Google AI scientist who now runs an AI company. “Honestly, everyone has underestimated how linguistic patterns will disrupt research.”

These challenges are exacerbated by political and regulatory concerns caused by Google’s growing power, as well as increased public scrutiny of the industry leader in adopting new technologies.

Company executives worried more than a year ago that sudden advances in AI capabilities could lead to a wave of public concern about the implications of Google, according to a former Google executive. such powerful technology in the hands of one company. Last year, he appointed former McKinsey executive James Manyika as the new senior vice president to advise him on the broader social impacts of his new technology.

Generative AI, which is used in services like ChatGPT, is inherently susceptible to giving incorrect answers and could be used to produce misinformation, Manyika said. Speaking to the Financial Times just days before the release of ChatGPT, he added: “That’s why we’re not rushing to publish these things the way people might have expected us to. .”

However, the huge interest in ChatGPT has intensified the pressure on Google to match OpenAI faster. This left it with the challenge of showing off its AI prowess and integrating it into its services without damaging its brand or causing political backlash.

“For Google, it’s a real problem if they write a sentence that contains hate speech and it’s close to the Google name,” said Ramaswamy, co-founder of search startup Neeva. Google is held to a higher standard than a startup that might claim its service was just an objective summary of content available on the internet, he added.

The research firm has previously come under fire for its handling of AI ethics. In 2020, when two prominent AI researchers left under controversial circumstances after objections to a research paper assessing the risks of language-related AI, a furor erupted around Google’s attitude towards ethics and the security of its AI technologies.

Such events have left it under greater public scrutiny than organizations like OpenAI or open-source alternatives like Stable Diffusion. The latter, which generates images from textual descriptions, encountered several security problems, in particular with the generation of pornographic images. Its security filter can be easily hacked, according to AI researchers, who say relevant lines of code can be removed manually. Its parent company, Stability AI, did not respond to request for comment.

OpenAI’s technology has also been abused by users. In 2021, an online game called AI Dungeon licensed GPT, a text-generating tool, to create scenarios to choose from based on individual user prompts. Within months, users generated gameplay involving child sexual abuse, among other disturbing content. OpenAI eventually loaned the company to introduce better moderation systems.

OpenAI did not respond to a request for comment.

If something like this had happened at Google, the backlash would have been much worse, said a former Google AI researcher. With the company now facing a serious threat from OpenAI, they added, it was unclear whether anyone in the company was prepared to take on the responsibility and risk of releasing new products faster. ‘IA.

Microsoft, however, faces a similar dilemma over how to use the technology. It has sought to portray itself as more responsible in its use of AI than Google. OpenAI, meanwhile, warned that ChatGPT is prone to inaccuracies, making it difficult to integrate the technology in its current form into a commercial service.

But as the most dramatic display yet of an AI force sweeping the tech world, OpenAI has announced that even entrenched powerhouses like Google could be at risk.

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