HomeProducts and ServicesTwo Google engineers built a ChatGPT-like AI chatbot years ago, but execs...

    Two Google engineers built a ChatGPT-like AI chatbot years ago, but execs reportedly shut it down due to safety concerns


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    Google is expected to release its widely anticipated AI chatbot Bard in the near future. But years ago, two ex-Google engineers pushed their former employer to release a similar chatbot to the public — and they were met with resistance, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.

    But Google execs thwarted their efforts to release it to the public due to safety concerns.
    Google is now racing to catch up with Microsoft’s AI and plans to release its AI chatbot this year.

    Around 2018, Daniel De Freitas, who was a research engineer at Google, started working on an AI side project with the goal of creating a conversational chatbot that mimicked the ways humans speak, former colleagues told the Journal. Noam Shazeer, a software engineer for Google’s AI research unit, later joined the project.

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    Per the Journal, De Freitas and Shazeer were able to build a chatbot, which they called Meena, that could argue about philosophy, speak casually about TV shows, and generate puns about horses and cows. They believed that Meena could radically change the way people search online, their former colleagues told the Journal.

    But their efforts to launch the bot — which they renamed LaMDA, which would become the language model behind Bard — reached an impasse after Google executives said the chatbot didn’t adhere to its AI safety and fairness standards, per the Journal. Executives thwarted multiple attempts made by the engineers to send the bot to external researchers, add the chat feature to Google Assistant, and launch a demo to the public, the Journal reported.

    Frustrated by the executive response, De Freitas and Shazeer left Google near the end of 2021 to start their own company — despite CEO Sundar Pichai personally requesting they stay and continue working on the chatbot, per the Journal. Their company, which now goes by Character.Ai, has since released a chatbot that can roleplay as figures like Elon Musk or Nintendo’s Mario.

    “It caused a bit of a stir inside of Google,” Shazeer said in an interview with investors Aarthi Ramamurthy and Sriram Krishnan last month. “But eventually we decided we’d probably have more luck launching stuff as a startup.”

    In 2012, Google hired Ray Kurzweil, a computer scientist, to work on its language processing models, TechCrunch reported. About one year later, Google bought British AI firm DeepMind which aimed to create artificial general intelligence, per TechCrunch.

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    However, academics and tech experts pushed back on using the tech due to ethical concerns around mass surveillance, the Journal reported, and Google committed to limiting how it would use AI. In 2018, Google ended its project to use its AI tech in military weapons in response to employee backlash, per the Journal.

    But Google’s AI plans may now finally see the light of day, even as discussions around whether its chatbot can be responsibly launched continue. The company’s chatbot, Bard, will come after Microsoft — whose stock is on the rise — released its own chatbot through Bing.

    After Google’s Bard chatbot generated a factual error during its first public demo last month, Google employees were quick to call the announcement “rushed” and “botched.” The chairman of Alphabet, John Hennessy, agreed that Google’s chatbot wasn’t “really ready for a product yet.”

    Pichai has asked all Google employees to spend two to four hours of their time helping test the product so it can be ready for launch.

    “I know this moment is uncomfortably exciting, and that’s to be expected: the underlying technology is evolving rapidly with so much potential,” Pichai wrote to Google employees in a February memo.

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    “The most important thing we can do right now is to focus on building a great product and developing it responsibly,” he said.

    AARON MOK writes for Business Insider.


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