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What is Google Bard? Here's everything you need to know

Following the success of OpenAI's ChatGPT, Google released its own AI chatbot, Bard. Now that it's widely available, here's what you need to know.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
Google Bard
Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

What is Google Bard?

Bard is Google's experimental, conversational, AI chat service. It is meant to function similarly to ChatGPT, with the biggest difference being that Google's service will pull its information from the web. 

Also: ChatGPT vs Bing Chat vs Google Bard: Which is the best AI chatbot?

Like most AI chatbots, Bard can code, answer math problems, and help with your writing needs.  

When was Google Bard announced?

Bard was unveiled on February 6 in a statement from Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. Even though Bard was an entirely new concept, the AI chat service that was launched was powered by Google's Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA), which was unveiled two years prior. Google Bard was then released a little over a month later on March 21, 2023. 

How does Google Bard work?

Google Bard is now powered by Google's very own and most advanced large language model (LLM) PaLM 2, which was unveiled at Google I/O 2023.

PaLM 2 -- a more advanced version of PaLM, which was released in April 2022 -- will allow Bard to be much more efficient and to perform at a higher level. 

The initial version of Bard used a lightweight model version of LaMDA, because it required less computing power and could be scaled to more users. 

LaMDA was built on Transformer, Google's neural network architecture that it invented and open-sourced in 2017. Interestingly, GPT-3, the language model ChatGPT functions on, was also built on Transformer, according to Google

Also: 5 handy AI tools for school that students, teachers, and parents can use, too

Google's decision to use its own LLMs, LaMDA and PaLM 2, was a bold decision from Google since some of the most popular AI chatbots right now, including ChatGPT and Bing Chat, use a language model in the GPT series. 

Is Google's Bard available to the public?

At Google I/O, the tech giant announced there would no longer be a waitlist for Bard, making it currently open to the general public. 

AlsoGoogle Bard is stepping up its AI game with these new features

Google Bard's previous waitlist opened up on March 21, 2023, and the tech giant granted access to limited numbers of users in the US and UK on a rolling basis. 

What languages is Bard available in?

As of July, Bard is available in over 40 languages, a major advantage over its biggest rival, ChatGPT, which is only available in English. 

AlsoWhat is generative AI and why is it so popular? Here's everything you need to know

The full language list, as shared by Google, includes: Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese (Simplified / Traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malayalam, Marathi, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu,Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, and Vietnamese. 

Can I reverse image search on Google Bard?

In its July wave of updates, Google added multimodal search, allowing users the ability to input pictures as well as text to the chatbot. 

Also7 ways you didn't know you can use Bing Chat and other AI chatbots

Multimodal search is possible through the integration of Google Lens into Bard, which was originally announced at Google I/O. This feature is helpful because users can upload an image and ask Bard for more information on it or incorporate it into the prompt. 

For example, if you see a plant and want to know what plant it is, all you need to do is snap a picture and ask Google Bard. I showed Bard a picture of my puppy, and it was able to accurately identify my dog was a Yorkie, as seen by the photo below. 

Google Bard screenshot
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Does Google include images in its answers?

Yes, in late May, Bard was updated to include images in its answers. The images are pulled from Google and shown when you ask a question that can be better answered by including a photo. 

Also: How to use Bing Image Creator (and why it's better than DALL-E 2)

For example, when I asked Bard, "What are some of the best places to visit in New York?", it provided a list of different places and included photos for each. 

Google Bard image responses
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

What is the controversy around Google Bard?

Google's Bard had a rough launch, with a demo of Bard delivering inaccurate information about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

At launch, Google tweeted a demo of the AI chat service in which the prompt read, "What new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope can I tell my 9-year-old about?" Bard replied: "JWST took the very first pictures of a planet outside of our own solar system." People quickly noticed that the output response was factually incorrect. 

Also: How (and why) to subscribe to ChatGPT Plus

"This highlights the importance of a rigorous testing process, something that we're kicking off this week with our Trusted Tester program," said a Google spokesperson to ZDNET in a statement. 

The actual performance of the chatbot also led to lots of negative feedback. 

In ZDNET's experience, Bard also failed to answer basic questions, had a longer wait time, didn't automatically include sources, and paled in comparison to more established competitors. Google CEO Sundar Pichai called Bard "a souped-up Civic" compared to ChatGPT and Bing Chat. 

Also: How to use the new Bing (and how it's different from ChatGPT)

Before Bard was released, Google's LaMDA came under fire as well. As ZDNET's Tiernan Ray reports, shortly after LaMDA's publication, former Google engineer Blake Lemoine released a document in which he shared that LaMDA might be "sentient". This controversy faded after Google denied the sentience, and put Lemoine on paid administrative leave before letting him go from the company.

Google's switch from LaMDA to PaLM 2 should help mitigate many of Bard's current issues.   

Why did Google decide to unveil Google Bard when it did?

Let's roll back to late November 30, 2022, when ChatGPT was released. Less than a week after launching, ChatGPT had more than one million users. According to analysis by Swiss bank UBS, ChatGPT became the fastest-growing 'app' of all time. Other tech companies, including Google, saw this success and wanted a piece of the action.

In the same week that Google unveiled Bard in February, 2023, Microsoft unveiled a new AI-improved Bing, which runs on a next-generation OpenAI LLM customized specifically for search. 

What other AI services does Google have?

Google has developed other AI services that have yet to be released to the public. The tech giant typically treads lightly when it comes to AI products and doesn't release them until it's confident in a product's performance. 

For example, Google has developed an AI image generator, Imagen, which could be a great alternative to OpenAI's DALL-E when released. Google also has an AI music generator, MusicLM, which Google says it has no plans to release at this point. 

Also: How Google Socratic can help you do homework

In a recent paper discussing MusicLM, Google recognized the risk that these kinds of models could pose to the misappropriation of creative content and inherent biases present in the training that could affect cultures underrepresented in the training, as well fears over cultural appropriation. 

What is Gemini?

At Google I/O 2023, the company announced Gemini, a large language model created by Google DeepMind. At the time of Google I/O, the company reported that the LLM was still in its early phases.

Also: 4 things Claude AI can do that ChatGPT can't

However, it is rumored that Google is nearing the release of Gemini, which will likely exceed PaLM 2 in its functions and capabilities, making it more akin to GPT-4, Open AI's latest and most advanced model.

What is Google Labs?

Google Labs is a platform where you can test out the company's early ideas for features and products. The platform currently includes Google's AI music generator MusicLM, an AI-powered Messages feature known as Magic Compose, AI-powered Google Search, and much more. Anyone can join the platform. All you need to do is join the waitlist or click on "Get started" on the Google Labs website.

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