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Google's AI bot makes costly mistake in its own promotional materials

Image credit: Dreamstime and Canva

Bard, Google's new artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, provided inaccurate information in the company's promotional materials, causing the company's market value to plummet.

The shares of Alphabet – the parent company of Google – fell over 7 per cent after its new AI chatbot was found to contain inaccurate information.

Bard is an AI tool created by Google to compete with ChatGPT, a free app that generates text in response to a prompt, including articles, essays, jokes and even poetry. The popularity of the app has skyrocketed over the past few months, leading Microsoft to incorporate its technology into a new version of its search engine, Bing. 

In an ad promoting Bard, the bot was asked: “What new discoveries from the James Webb space telescope (JWST) can I tell my nine-year old about?”

Bard replied that JWST was the first telescope to take pictures of a planet outside the Earth's solar system. This answer is incorrect. The milestone was actually claimed by the European Very Large Telescope in 2004, as pointed out by several Twitter users and reported by Nasa.  

"Why didn't you factcheck this example before sharing it?" Chris Harrison, a fellow at Newcastle University, replied to the tweet.

Bruce Macintosh, the director of University of California Observatories, tweeted: “Speaking as someone who imaged an exoplanet 14 years before JWST was launched, it feels like you should find a better example?”

The mistake caused investors to lose trust in the chatbot, which resulted in a drastic drop in the value of Google's stock price, which fell by $100bn (£82bn). 

The mistake seemed to confirm fears regarding the popularity of AI chatbots such as ChatGPT. These are said to spread misinformation, as the AI cannot verify the accuracy of the information it finds on the web.  

“This highlights the importance of a rigorous testing process, something that we’re kicking off this week,” a Google spokesperson said. “We’ll combine external feedback with our own internal testing to make sure Bard’s responses meet a high bar for quality, safety and groundedness in real-world information.”

Earlier this week, Microsoft said its search engine will incorporate ChatGPT technology, which would function as “an AI co-pilot for the web”. Rather than just returning a list of websites and adverts, results pages will also have a sidebar where a chatbot will provide more detailed answers, and even generate new ones. 

Google has not confirmed whether it plans to integrate Bard into its core search function, but the announcement of the AI chatbot has been perceived as a way of ensuring it stays at the forefront of the market.  

“People are starting to question: is Microsoft going to be a formidable competitor now against Google’s really bread-and-butter business?” said King Lip, the chief strategist at BakerAvenue Wealth Management, which owns Alphabet and Microsoft shares.

“I think still Bing is a far, far cry away from Google’s search capabilities,” Lip cautioned. 

Bard is built on Google’s existing large language model Lamda, which one engineer said was sentient. The company denied the accusations. 

The launch of Bard came only a few weeks after Alphabet announced that it would be cutting 12,000 jobs – approximately 6 per cent of its global workforce – in the latest round of redundancies to hit the tech industry. 

Sundar Pichai, the company's CEO said the layoffs were part of an effort to refocus on the company’s core business, as well as its early investments in artificial intelligence.

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