Google is testing Apprentice Bard, a new Search page with AI features like ChatGPT

Unleashed upon the world late last year, ChatGPT is a viral sensation. The chatbot can offer answers to questions, write computer code, and pass law and business school exams. It has taken the tech world by storm. Google initially downplayed ChatGPT’s threat to Google Search, but the company internally declared a “code red” afterward, shifting tons of resources to its own AI products. One of them might already be in testing at Google, an “Apprentice Bard” chatbot that appears on the Search home page, offering features similar to ChatGPT.

Nobody would blame people for thinking ChatGPT is the kind of feature that Google would develop for the future of Search. It’s precisely what we expect from a company that made massive progress with human speech and artificial intelligence (AI).

But Google might not want to release products like ChatGPT until they’re ready to be as reliable as traditional Search. That’s what Google hinted at when first reacting to ChatGPT.

Reports that followed showed Sundar Pichai wants all hands on deck at Google, working on ChatGPT-like products that could be demoed this spring. Even Google’s co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are back for this endeavor.

Unsurprisingly, Google is already testing a ChatGPT-like home page. It’s called Apprentice Bard, and it uses Google’s LaMDA language technology. That’s according to CNBC’s sources.

If accurate, this proves Google has had products like ChatGPT in development all along. OpenAI just beat them to market with a ChatGPT product that’s not really ready to replace Google Search.

Customer service robot
U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu on January 26 introduced the first-ever congressional legislation written by the AI-powered ChatGPT. Image source: phonlamaiphoto/Adobe

CNBC says Google’s name for its “code red” reaction to ChatGPT is called Project Atlas. That’s in addition to the Apprentice Bard chatbot that Googlers can already test internally. Furthermore, Google is reportedly testing a new Search desktop design that could support a question-and-answer form for Apprentice Bard.

How Google’s ChatGPT alternatives for Search work

“As a result of ChatGPT, the LaMDA team has been asked to prioritize working on a response to ChatGPT,” said an internal Google memo viewed by CNBC. “In the short term, it takes precedence over other projects.”

Apprentice Bard looks like ChatGPT but uses the LaMDA tool for dialogue with users. The report notes that Google’s chatbot can deliver answers that include recent events. That’s something ChatGPT doesn’t have access to yet. Moreover, Googlers have noticed that Apprentice Bard’s responses have become more advanced in recent weeks:

In one example circulated internally, a tester asked Apprentice Bard if there will be another round of layoffs at Google. The company laid off 12,000 employees, 6% of its workforce, earlier this month.

‘According to my data base access, it is unlikely for Google to conduct another round of layoffs in 2023,’ the response reads. ‘Layoffs are generally conducted to reduce costs and structure, but the company is doing well financially. In fact, Google’s revenue increased by 34% in 2021, and the company’s stock price has risen by 70% since January 2022.’

Google is also testing an alternate Search page that would support questions and answers:

One view showed the home search page offering five different prompts for potential questions placed directly under the main search bar, replacing the current ‘I’m feeling lucky’ bar. It also showed a small chat logo inside the far right end of the search bar.

When the user enters a question, the search results show a grey bubble under the search bar. This will offer more human-like responses than regular search results. The page will also suggest follow-up questions related to the first one. Only then will you see regular search results, like links and headlines.

Finally, the report says Google has been testing a beta LaMDA chatbot against ChatGPT.

It’s unclear when Google might make its ChatGPT rivals available to the public, even in a beta form. But the CNBC report suggests that while Google might be scared of ChatGPT, it’s definitely ready to compete. With such AI projects in development, it seems highly unlikely that Google Search will lose its search supremacy to ChatGPT without a fierce fight.

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