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Google's Bard Announcement: The Essentials

On February 6 2023, Google announced the roll out of Bard, a new “conversational AI service” promising to unite the language abilities of cutting edge chatbots with the information and relevance available to Google's search engine. 

What Is Google’s Bard?

Bard is an AI-powered chatbot with the ability to draw on the web to inform its answers. Think Google Search meets ChatGPT. Bard will use the natural language processing capabilities developed by Google’s LaMDA project.

What Is LaMDA?

LaMDA stands for Language Model for Dialogue Applications and is Google’s AI technology for understanding human language inputs and responding to them in a natural, flowing, and dynamic way.

As of February 2023, LaMDA has been in testing for almost 2 years with the aim of improving its quality, safety, and groundedness (more on these factors below).

LaMDA, in turn, is built on Google’s groundbreaking transformer technology (a method for understanding and translating human language) which they made open source in 2017 and which forms the basis of other language models like the one powering ChatGPT.


What Makes Bard Different From LaMDA?

LaMDA was pre-trained on a data-set that included vast amounts of human dialog and documents. The aim of LaMDA was to produce flowing, natural-sounding conversation patterns to interact with human users. Bard is similar, building on LaMDA’s technology, but with the added ability to draw information from the web.

This has the potential to make Bard much more powerful and useful as a tool for answering questions.

Why Is Google Releasing Bard Now?

The short answer is probably: to compete with Microsoft and OpenAI

The longer answer is that it’s simply the next natural step in line with the way Google has been moving for years.

Long gone are the days when Google would simply show you websites based on matching keywords then let you figure out the rest.

With featured snippets, knowledge graph, rich results, BERT, and then MUM, Google has slowly but surely been integrating AI with its search engine service to better understand user questions, their intent, and the kind of information that satisfies that intent, before serving this information itself (much to the dismay of those putting this information online in the first place).

With the advent of ChatGPT, many feel like Google has been overtaken on this trajectory, threatening its dominance in the industry.

Google saw the threat themselves, issuing a widely-reported “code red” back in December which likely hastened the roll out of Bard along with the announcement of a number of other AI-related initiatives.

Google & Bard Versus Microsoft & ChatGPT

Microsoft has reportedly invested around $10 billion into the company behind ChatGPT, and is apparently planning to integrate its technology with Bing search in the near future.

Microsoft has also planned to make an announcement related to ChatGPT today - an announcement which will probably have already taken place by the time you read this.

(Update: On Feb 7, Microsoft announced "New Bing", integrating AI features with Bing search and its Edge browser. Then, on Feb 8, Google held another event in Paris, unveiling some of their new search features and Bard capabilities. This came just a few hours after an embarrassing error turned up in an ad intended to demonstrate Bard's abilities to answer search questions.)

No surprises then that Google wanted to get ahead of Microsoft with an announcement of its own, probably to steal some of the thunder from its competitor.

Why Is Bard Only Being Released For Limited Testing?

During the Bard announcement it was revealed that Google would begin with a limited rollout among a select group of (non-Google) testers before being extended to a more public test in the following weeks. Bard is only being released initially for closed testing to ensure that it meets Google's own principles for developing and implementing AI technology.

While Google probably sped up the release of Bard in response to ChatGPT and Microsoft’s upcoming announcement, it’s still taking a cautious approach, probably scared by the embarrassment of Meta’s Galactica experience.

As mentioned, Google also intends to refine Bard according to certain standards, these being:

  • Quality - A measure that includes producing answers that are sensible (not contradictory, speculative, or weird), specific (actually answering the question), and interesting (to keep users engaged).
  • Safety - Avoiding bias, offensive language, or harmful content.
  • Groundedness - Being informative without making up facts.

It’s likely that Bard’s testing phase is supposed to make sure that all of its outputs meet these criteria consistently.


AI Chatbots and Organic Search 

So what’s next?

Right now, we’re not sure how much Google’s Bard testers will be allowed to disclose about their experience, so we may hear some news in the coming days…or not.

Either way, the current dueling announcement cycle might yet have some surprises in store.

Until then, we can speculate that both Microsoft and Google’s apparent plans to integrate chatbot AI with their existing services has some worrying implications for the future of search. To begin with...

  • Will the information provided by websites be accessed and presented completely within a chatbot service, with almost no chance of a click-through?
  • What will this mean for web traffic?
  • If the need to actually visit websites for information or research plummets, does this represent the beginning of the end for web-content as we know it?
  • Is there a way for a site to opt-out of having its information available to these chatbots?

Time will tell, but it's probably also time to start thinking about what the future of chatbot-SEO will look like.


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