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What is Google's Gemini AI tool (formerly Bard)? Everything you need to know

Google's conversational AI chatbot keeps getting upgrades - it even just got a new name. Want to give Gemini (formerly Google Bard) a try? Here's what you need to know.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
Gemini chatbot
Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

What is Gemini (formerly Google Bard)?

Gemini is Google's conversational AI chatbot, meant to function similarly to ChatGPT, with the biggest difference being that Google's service pulls its information from the web. (ChatGPT's data is limited up to 2021)

Like most AI chatbots, Gemini can code, answer math problems, and help with your writing needs. Starting in  February, Gemini can generate images as well. To access it, all you have to do is visit the Gemini website and sign into your Google account. 

When was Gemini, known as Google Bard at the time, announced?

Bard was first announced on February 6 in a statement from Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. Google Bard was released a little over a month later, on March 21, 2023. Then, nearly a year later, Bard was renamed Gemini.

When did Google Bard get renamed to Gemini? Why?

Google renamed Google Bard to Gemini on February 8 as a nod to Google's LLM that powers the AI chatbot. "To reflect the advanced tech at its core, Bard will now simply be called Gemini," said Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, in the announcement. 

Also: Google rebrands Bard to Gemini, now available for the first time in mobile

When Google Bard first launched almost a year ago, it had some major flaws. Since then, it has grown significantly with two large language model (LLM) upgrades and several updates, and the new name might be a way to leave the past reputation in the past. 

How does Gemini, Google's chatbot, work?

Gemini has undergone several large language model (LLM) upgrades since it launched. Initially, Gemini, known as Bard at the time, used a lightweight model version of LaMDA that required less computing power and could be scaled to more users. 

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

Also: What is Google's Gemini AI model?

That chatbot's performance left many users unimpressed; as a result, Google quickly pivoted, upgrading the chatbot to PaLM 2, which was unveiled at Google I/O 2023. PaLM 2 -- a more advanced version of PaLM that was released in April 2022 --  allowed Gemini to be much more efficient and perform at a higher level than its original model. 

Then, in December 2023, Google upgraded Gemini again, this time to Gemini, the company's most capable and advanced LLM to date. Yes, the AI chatbot and its underlying LLM have the same name. Specifically, Gemini uses a fine-tuned version of Gemini Pro for English.

Google's decision to use its own LLMs -- LaMDA, PaLM 2, and Gemini -- was a bold one because some of the most popular AI chatbots right now, including ChatGPT and Copilot, use a language model in the GPT series. 

Is Google's Gemini available to the public?

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

Also: The best AI chatbots of 2024: ChatGPT and alternatives

Previously, Gemini had a waitlist that opened on March 21, 2023, and the tech giant granted access to limited numbers of users in the US and UK on a rolling basis. 

Where can you access Gemini?

Users can access Gemini via desktop on its standalone website. Soon, users will also be able to access Gemini on mobile via the newly unveiled Gemini Android app or the Google app for iOS. 

Also: You can try Google's new 'AI Premium Plan' for free. Here's how (and why you'll want to)

Android users will have the option to download the Gemini app from the Google Play Store or opt-in through Google Assistant. Once they do, they will be able to access Gemini's assistance from the app or via anywhere that Google Assistant would typically be activated, including pressing the power button, corner swiping, or even saying "Hey Google."

What languages is Gemini available in?

According to Gemini's FAQ, as of February, the chatbot is available in over 40 languages, a major advantage over its biggest rival, ChatGPT, which is available only in English. 

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 or multimodal search on Gemini?

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

Also: The best AI image generators of 2024: Tested and reviewed

Multimodal search is possible through the integration of Google Lens into Gemini, originally announced at Google I/O. This feature is helpful because users can upload an image and ask Gemini 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 Gemini. I showed Gemini a picture of my puppy, and it was able to accurately identify my dog was a Yorkie, as seen by the photo below. 

Google Gemini screenshot
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Does Gemini include images in its answers?

Yes, in late May 2023, Gemini 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 Image Creator from Microsoft Designer (formerly Bing Image Creator)

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

Google Bard image responses
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Can you generate images in Gemini?

Yes, as of February 1, 2024, Gemini can generate images leveraging Imagen 2, Google's most advanced text-to-image model, developed by Google DeepMind. Using it is simple. All you have to do is ask Gemini to "draw," "generate," or "create" an image and include a description with as much -- or as little -- detail as is appropriate. 

Also: Google's AI image generator finally rolls out to the public - how to try it

The results are impressive, tackling complex tasks such as hands or faces pretty decently, as you can see in the photo below. It automatically generates two photos, but if you'd like to see four, you can click the "generate more" option. 

Google Gemini Imagen 2 screenshot
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Is there a paid subscription tier for Gemini?

On February 8, Google introduced the new Google One AI Premium Plan, which costs $19.99 per month, the same as OpenAI's and Microsoft's premium plans, ChatGPT Plus and Copilot Pro. With the subscription, users get access to Gemini Advanced, which is powered by Ultra 1.0, Google's most capable AI model. 

Thanks to Ultra 1.0, Gemini Advanced can tackle complex tasks such as coding, logical reasoning, and more, according to the release. One AI Premium Plan users also get 2TB of storage, Google Photos editing features, 10% back in Google Store rewards, Google Meet premium video calling features, and Google Calendar enhanced appointment scheduling. 

The best part is that Google is offering users a two-month free trial as part of the new plan. To get started, you can visit this page and sign up. 

What was the controversy around Gemini, at the time Bard, when it first launched?

Gemini, then known as 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. 

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

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

Also: I tested Google Bard. It was surprising -- in a bad way

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, now Copilot. 

Gemini's latest upgrade to Gemini should have taken care of all of the issues that plagued the chatbot's initial release.

Why did Google decide to unveil Gemini (then Bard) when it did?

Let's roll back to late November 2022, when ChatGPT was released. Less than a week after launching, ChatGPT had more than one million users. According to an 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 the company is confident about a product's performance. 

Also: 5 reasons to sign up for Google Labs and how to do it

However, many of these technologies are accessible via Google Labs. Right now, you can access ImageFX, Google's impressive standalone AI image generator; Search Generative Experience, which infuses AI into Google's regular search engine; NotebookLM, Google's AI-first Notebook; and MusicFX, an AI tool to generate music, just to name a few. 

What is Google Labs?

Google Labs is a platform where you can test out the company's early ideas for features and products and provide feedback that affects whether the experiments are deployed and what changes are made before they are released. Even though the technologies in Google Labs are in preview, they are highly functional. 

Also: I just tried Google's ImageFX AI image generator, and I'm shocked at how good it is

For example, ImageFX, Google's standalone AI image generator, is available in Google Labs, and it's extremely impressive. I went hands-on with the generator and was shocked at how good it was

What is Google's Gemini AI model?

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. Google then made its Gemini model available to the public in December. 

Also: What is Gemini? Everything you should know about Google's new AI model

Gemini is available in three sizes: Gemini Nano, Gemini Pro, and Gemini Ultra. Each size makes Gemini suitable for different tasks. Gemini, Google's AI chatbot, is powered by Gemini Pro, which is why it was renamed grom Bard to Gemini. 

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