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Google is behind on AI. His big event this week could change that.

Google is behind on AI.  His big event this week could change that.

On Wednesday, Google will hold its annual conference to showcase its latest innovations, a 15-year ritual upended this time by the fact that the tech giant is suddenly catching up in a field it had long dominated. : artificial intelligence.

The explosion of enthusiasm around new advances in AI technology has put Google on the defensive, forcing it to try to regain the initiative after arch-rival Microsoft and smaller companies like OpenAI put new “generative” AI tools directly into customer hands. Google’s event, known as I/O (short for input/output, a software term for human-computer interaction), is a chance for executives to show off skeptical investors, competitors and, in many cases, to its own employees, which continues to be the leader in AI.

Preparations for the event have added to the intense atmosphere Google workers are in after their bosses sent orders to redouble their AI efforts in December, after the OpenAI chatbot ChatGPT became an instant phenomenon. .

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The expectation that Google will host a big AI event is tempered by the current frugal mood at the company after it laid off 12,000 employees in January and cut some of its famous benefits. The conference is much smaller than in years past: What used to be a three-day extravaganza covering large swathes of the company’s Mountain View, California, campus is now just one day. This is the most stressful moment workers can remember at the company, according to conversations with five current and former employees who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

“It’s a different time at Google,” said one current employee. “There’s a lot of pressure right now.”

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Showcasing new technologies to customers, media and investors is key given the perception by analysts and industry watchers that Google botched its March launch of the “Bard” chatbot, four months after OpenAI debuted ChatGPT and after Microsoft rebooted its Bing search engine with ChatGPT. . For the better part of its two decades, Google has enjoyed a reputation as the undisputed leader in its core business areas. Google Search has no serious competitors, and Google Maps, Gmail, and the Chrome web browser dominate their product categories so deeply that antitrust authorities in several countries have launched investigations or filed lawsuits alleging the company is violating competition laws. That dominance has allowed the company to grow ever larger, hiring thousands of new employees in recent years and expanding into new product areas.

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But the advent of generative AI models, which have ingested trillions of words and phrases from the World Wide Web and can now have eerily human conversations, has led some AI leaders and techies to suggest that Internet searches will be replaced by AI bots that can directly answer specific questions.

“Microsoft and OpenAI right now are the companies that everyone else needs to keep up with,” said Fred Havemeyer, an analyst at Macquarie Group. “Google is catching up.”

Google spokesman Chris Pappas declined to comment.

I/O is the company’s largest annual event, and in the months and weeks leading up to it, executives and product managers debate exactly what to focus on. Up to a quarter of the company’s nearly 200,000 employees may be involved in something to be announced or exhibited at I/O, one former employee said.

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Quirky dome-shaped structures sit on acres of parking lots on the company campus, each filled with colorful games, hands-on demos, and new hardware. But this year, far fewer people were invited to attend in person, and most developers and partners will be streaming remotely rather than flying to California, something that for many developers working in the Google ecosystem was a coveted opportunity. only. -Opportunity for life.

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At I/O, the company is expected to finally detail how it will start using generative AI in search results. Google leaders have been emphatic that Bard is not intended to be a replacement for search.

But the company has already talked about how generative AI can be useful when it comes to answering complex queries without a single answer, something that bloggers and online content creators currently do. Google could also use a search chatbot to search for different answers and summarize them, eliminating the need for people to click on multiple links when searching for information. Either way, revisiting how search results are presented could change the company’s long-standing relationship with Internet content creators, who often need traffic from Google search to generate revenue.

Google has called itself an “AI first” company for years, and the technological advances made by its researchers have helped seed the entire AI ecosystem. Its own employees invented transformers, a type of AI model that could digest larger data sets, and after publishing their findings, they saw the technology being adopted by companies that have now become key competitors. It has integrated AI into existing products, such as improving the auto-complete feature that appears in the Google search bar or vastly increasing the quality of translations performed by Google Translate. The company developed its own AI chatbots and even showed off its LaMDA chatbot at the 2021 I/O event.

But Google hesitated to make the new AI tools widely available. Chatbots have a penchant for making up false information. The initial blog post announcing Bard inadvertently included a mistake the chatbot had made. Investors dismissed a March event detailing some of the company’s generative AI plans as disappointing, causing the company’s value to fall by $100 billion in a single day.

The event will clarify the question of how fast Google is willing to move to respond to the competitive threat from Microsoft and OpenAI. Some employees have applauded the newfound urgency, arguing that getting your technology into people’s hands while it’s still in an experimental state is important to help you keep up with smaller, nimbler competitors. Other employees, as well as outside ethical AI researchers, worry that the new tactics could lead to products that could cause harm getting into the hands of ordinary people.

“This is a tenuous moment for Google in the AI ​​arms race,” said Dan Ives, a stock analyst at Wedbush Securities. “This is the time for Google to restart the AI ​​engines with time running out.”



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