Google pays the price for panicking over AI race

Google AI Paris demo
Google Liveview identifies a Copains coffee shop as a Starbucks in a live demo. Original video source: Google/YouTube

Google is in such a blind panic over AI that it is rushing to market with products and events that are half-baked simply to meet a competitive threat that – in my opinion – does not exist.

Google held an AI event in Paris last week along with online demonstrations. The whole thing  was so full of gaffes and errors that the company’s excellence in AI was completely overshadowed. The result: Alphabet’s shares tanked 7.5%, costing the company $97.1 billion in value as the market seems to be beginning to lose confidence in Google’s leading position in AI.

By contrast, Microsoft and OpenAI have introduced pretty much the same product (although I suspect that Google’s will be way better) with worse flaws, but were met with adulation as opposed to derision.

This is the problem of expectations, where Google is defending its No. 1 slot and has everything to lose, whereas Microsoft is the challenger with nothing to lose and of whom no one expects much.

However, this did not justify the complete mess that Google made of its Paris event, which had all the hallmarks of rushing to produce something in a panic. Here are three major face-palm highlights.

Google fumbles

1. Lost phone: One presenter was about to demonstrate a new feature when it turned out that the phone upon which the demonstration was going to be made had vanished. This is not a big deal in itself, but it is a sign that the event was not properly rehearsed because of a sudden decision to bring the date forward from its expected date in May.

2. Liveview howler: During the demonstration of search within Liveview, the app incorrectly identifies a coffee shop called Copains as Starbucks.

Google AI Paris demo
Google Liveview identifies a Copains coffee shop as a Starbucks in a live demo. Original video source: Google/YouTube

(The full video is here – the screencap happens at 25:01.)

The Google Maps app in Chrome correctly identifies this coffee shop as Copains. More to the point, there is not a Starbucks within several hundred metres. This leads me to conclude that either Google faked the demo (unlikely) or that the service is not yet ready, and the demonstration was not adequately tested, because Google was in such a rush to get it to market.

This is a really bad mistake because it makes Google look completely incompetent with flaky products when anyone who knows anything about Google knows that it is the best AI company in business today.

3. Bard falsehood: A promotional video showing what Bard can do contains the factual error that the James Webb telescope captured the first picture of an exoplanet when this was actually achieved in 2004.

The irony of Bard’s goof

Compared to the schoolboy errors made by ChatGPT experienced by myself and others, the severity of this mistake pales into insignificance. Google’s generational AI product has all of the same limitations that Microsoft and OpenAI’s does, but crucially, I suspect Google will be able to make its product far better.

At the moment this will work in search by having the two systems completely separate, so that Bard will give a response to a query at the top of the page and Google Search another that is underneath. However, over time, Google should be able to integrate the search graph into Bard to make it current.

By contrast, ChatGPT remains frozen in time in H2 2021. This alone will make Bard a far better product, but I suspect that there is more that can be done.

Investor AI ignorance could punish Google

For some reason, the technology press has decided that Google’s product is rubbish and Microsoft’s is revolutionary even though they are pretty much the same, and I suspect that Google’s will end up being much better.

This creates an opportunity because if the market loses confidence in Google’s AI, then the shares will sell off and sell off hard. Given that almost nobody in the realm of the professional investor understands AI properly, this is a more than feasible possibility.

This is especially the case as Google appears to have lost confidence in itself and caved into the pressure brought by Microsoft to get something to market as quickly as possible. The result was the dog’s dinner that we witnessed last week that felt rushed in its conception and has done far more harm than good.

I have not liked Alphabet’s shares for some time on account of slowing growth and high valuation, but now I am getting interested as the market has a habit of putting things on a big sale every now and again. Google’s is not properly on sale yet but another 30% would make this very interesting indeed.

Related article: AI products need to be designed with a good UX in mind

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