Google Builds on Tech’s Latest Craze With Its Own A.I. Products

When the San Francisco start-up OpenAI released ChatGPT late last year, the A.I. chatbot looked like the first significant threat in decades to Google. One day, tech insiders thought, it could make Google’s internet search engine look old and stodgy.

Google executives vowed a fast response to protect the company’s $162 billion franchise and said that artificial intelligence would be woven throughout its products, from the search engine to email.

On Wednesday, at its annual conference in Mountain View, Calif., the company demonstrated some of what it has been working on. Google said its search engine will begin incorporating responses generated by A.I. at the top of query results pages and allow users to ask follow-up questions.

It was a notable step toward Google’s embrace of A.I., which many experts believe could remake the tech industry. Google was a pioneer in the technology, but had been reluctant to do too much with it because A.I. comes with risks, like spreading false information.

But Google, along with the rest of Silicon Valley, was surprised by the success of ChatGPT. In December, Google declared a “code red” to find ways to incorporate A.I. into its own products.

Google said at its conference on Wednesday that it has now embedded its latest A.I. technology into 25 products, including the search updates and a feature to help users write emails in Gmail.

The company also doubled down on its hardware ambitions, releasing two new smartphones and a tablet. On the high end was the Pixel Fold, Google’s first folding phone. For the budget minded, it offered the Pixel 7A, a phone that costs $500.

Med-PaLM 2, trained by Google health research teams, can answer questions and summarize findings from a variety of medical texts.Credit…via Google

Adobe Firefly, a creative generative A.I. model, will be integrated into Google’s A.I. chatbot Bard so that users can quickly turn ideas into images.CreditCredit…By Google

Google has been racing against OpenAI and its partner, Microsoft. In February, Microsoft demonstrated how the newest version of Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, incorporates a chatbot that works with the technology developed by OpenAI.

But Google is still taking a more measured approach than its main competitors. The company did not include a chatbot, which can be prone to making up false information, in its search engine. Instead, Google said it will use A.I. to provide some answers, which will be corroborated by authoritative websites, and it will continue including ads in responses.

Liz Reid, a Google search vice president, said in an interview ahead of the conference that users expected the company to have high-quality information and it did not want to undermine that trust.

“The technology is early,” Ms. Reid said. “It’s amazing in some ways and it has a bunch of challenges in other ways.”

To work with the latest search features, users need to sign up for Search Labs, a new effort that allows users and the company to test experimental features. The New York Times previously reported that Google will let up to 30 million people in the United States use the updates by the end of the year.

Bard can generate emails.CreditCredit…By Google

In March, Google released Bard, an experimental chatbot meant to compete with ChatGPT. Google on Wednesday broadened access the tool, bringing it to more than 180 countries and territories in English, and also offering it in Japanese and Korean.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, also discussed the company’s efforts to build more powerful A.I. technology. He unveiled the latest version of that more powerful technology, Pathways Language Model 2, or PaLM 2, and said work had begun on an even larger model named Gemini.

A.I. models are the huge systems that are used to develop artificial intelligence, and so far only a handful of companies have the resources to develop them. While protecting the search business is essential to the company’s future, Google could make billions from allowing other companies to use its cloud computing services to develop their own A.I. services.

PaLM 2, or Pathways Language Model 2, is more heavily trained on multilingual text, spanning more than 100 languages.Credit…via Google
Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, said that PaLM 2 is the company’s latest A.I. model and that work had begun on an even larger model, Gemini.Credit…via Google

Google said it made Bard, which can generate emails, shopping lists and poems, more intelligent and creative by running it on PaLM 2. The chatbot will be able to show and interpret images and allow users to export responses to Gmail, Docs and other applications.

Since ChatGPT was introduced, Google has faced criticism from tech industry insiders that it had not moved fast enough to improve its search. But Ms. Reid said the company’s large number of users was “the chorus we should listen to the loudest.”

“There is still huge opportunity in the world in meeting people’s information needs and there will always be lots of people trying to solve it, and I think that’s great,” she said. “It will help us — help everyone — evolve.”

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