Search engine technology giant Google, with its “experimental conversational AI service” called Bard, has added fresh fuel to the rapidly intensifying fight for supremacy in the artificial intelligence space. With the announcement made by chief executive officer Sundar Pichai in his blog on February 6, the company has addressed all speculations about its strategy to counter ChatGPT, the generative AI chatbot that its rival Microsoft is betting heavily on.
Last month, software behemoth Microsoft announced its decision to extend its partnership with OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, with a “multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment”—reportedly around $10 billion—after earlier investing in the company in 2019 and 2021.
Google’s share in the search engine market across platforms like desktop, tablet and mobile worldwide was 92.9 per cent between January 2022 and January 2023, as per GlobalStats. Microsoft’s Bing, at Number 2, had just 3.03 per cent of the share.
However, the rising popularity of ChatGPT and its potential to disrupt Google’s monopoly in the segment is a threat the latter cannot ignore.
Bard, based on Google’s Language Model for Dialogue Application (LaMDA), has currently been opened to “trusted testers” and will be made available to the public in a few weeks. Its unveiling has prompted users and onlookers to move from “Will ChatGPT be Microsoft’s masterstroke to counter Google’s supremacy in search engine technology?” to “Can Bard undo Microsoft’s ChatGPT gains?”
By entering the arena late, Google has lost the first-mover advantage. Such has been the excitement around ChatGPT that in just two months, its user base hit 100 million. In contrast, Google took over a year, Instagram more than two and Facebook over four. It should not be a surprise to anyone that Google, which had till now adopted a conservative approach to AI technology due to the inherent reputational risk, has shed some of the cautions to announce its arrival on the scene.
Google is at an advantage in terms of resources available to Bard. Both will give detailed responses to questions, but while ChatGPT can only draw from data since 2021, Bard will have access to a much wider repository and hence can be more accurate and updated.
Microsoft’s Bet on ChatGPT-Powered Products
Microsoft is one of the biggest software companies in the world. However, over the years it failed to stay ahead in the sphere of software application, courtesy a few disastrous moves. For example, its Zune music player was released in November 2006, around the time when Apple’s iPod, which was introduced in 2001, had gained popularity. Despite having similar features, Zune failed to gain traction. According to VentureBeat, since its launch, Zune had sold two million units until May 2008, while Apple had sold 10.6 million iPods in Q2 2008 alone. Additionally, 140 million iPod units had been sold by then since its launch. Soon, Zune was discontinued.
Similarly, Microsoft’s mobile operating system, Windows Phone, was launched in 2010, but it never caught on and was discontinued in 2017. On the positive side, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Microsoft’s Skype video conferencing product regained its popularity, though it was still upstaged by Zoom, an app half its age.
AI seems to be Microsoft’s best bet to reclaim some of its lost ground.
Earlier this month, Microsoft announced Teams premium which is powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 on which ChatGPT, the most advanced AI writing tool is built.
A major concern has been the failure of the Microsoft search engine Bing’s inability to gain much traction, forget posing any noticeable challenge to Google Search, which has become synonymous with online search. In 2022, the tech giant had said in a blog post that it planned to integrate image-generation software from OpenAI, DALL-E 2, into Bing.
Microsoft plans to use ChatGPT to enhance Bing, making it even more conversational and intuitive. Additionally, the company is exploring ways to integrate ChatGPT into its productivity suite, Office, to provide users with more sophisticated language-based services.
“While Microsoft might be heading in the right direction, Google has a far significant lead when it comes to search. This significant lead has helped to widen the gap between Google and the competition when it comes to sharing and usage. Having said that, ChatGPT is a new form of ‘intelligent querying’ and ‘response’ which will enhance Microsoft’s Bing search engine, LinkedIn, as well as products such as Microsoft Office suite,” says Neil Shah, vice president of research, Counterpoint Research.
Investing in AI and technology is not only helping Microsoft improve its existing products, but is also leading to the development of new and innovative products. For example, the company’s HoloLens mixed reality headset, which was developed using AI and computer vision technology, is being used in a variety of industries, from healthcare to manufacturing. Additionally, Microsoft’s AI-powered virtual assistant Cortana is becoming increasingly popular, with millions of users relying on it to help complete tasks and manage busy schedules.
Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI and its AI technologies indicates a long-term commitment to improving and developing ChatGPT, making it a potentially viable alternative to Google search in the future.
Google Over the Years
Google has had several successful product launches over the years, which have solidified its position as the premier technology company. The company’s search engine, Google Search, has remained the dominant search platform for over a decade, with a market share of over 84.66 per cent in the desktop segment alone. Additionally, Google’s Android operating system powers the majority of smartphones worldwide, and of course, Gmail is one of the most widely used email services.
To remain at the top, Google has continued to invest in cutting-edge technology, including AI. The company has developed several AI-powered products, such as Google Assistant, Google Photos, Google Meet, Google Translate and many more, which have eventually become indispensable tools for millions of users worldwide.
“Microsoft is potentially emerging as the first serious challenger to chip away at Google’s long-held dominant position and holds a significant first-mover advantage in furthering the use of AI/ML capabilities to build new business models and applications. However, Google does have strong capabilities in AI, and more importantly, the financial strength to respond, and defend its market leadership. As we move forward and AI usage matures, I foresee many new use cases and new market players entering the fray,” says Prabhu Ram, head, Industry Intelligence Group (IIG), CyberMedia Research (CMR).
Investing in AI, Investing in Future
For both Google and Microsoft, the race to cement their positions in the AI space is a necessity, given the fact that it has been and will continue to revolutionise human existence and they cannot afford to lose out on its potential.
Google’s concern about the reliability of AI-powered search is not baseless. Industry experts have warned that ChatGPT has limitations and unreliable, with OpenAI founder Sam Altman stating that it is a “mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now”. Despite these limitations, ChatGPT may still become an attractive alternative to Google search, especially if Microsoft incorporates it into Bing.
“In the short run, AI-based tools like ChatGPT can be considered as a means to an end rather than an end itself, as tools that can complement original and quality inputs with helpful background information and context. In the longer run, and given enough time for the technology to mature, AI-based solutions have merit in helping fact-checkers make a more significant impact with their work,” says
“Every technology goes through a cycle of progress before becoming mainstream. One pitfall of AI-driven search is that it will be defined by the data models it was trained on, and this could potentially throw-up misinformation or biased information. The success of ChatGPT will fuel the rise of similar AI-driven tools in the year ahead, providing consumers with a growing array of search tool options than before,” Ram adds.
ChatGPT has a significant head start and it will take Google and Bard some serious effort to undo the beginner’s advantage that Microsoft has. Having seen first-hand what ChatGPT can do, users will be looking for something more and different in Bard. The coming days, when Google has finished its testing and finally opens its AI service for the public, will show if Bard can throw a spanner in Microsoft’s works or will allow itself to be relegated to the Number 2 position.