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Bard AI chatbot, Google’s answer to ChatGPT, is now available for Australian users




Australians will be able to access Google’s new AI chatbot from today as part of a dramatic global expansion of the tech giant’s answer to ChatGPT.

The Bard chatbot – which promises to help users perform any task from learning how to code and researching for a school assignment to getting Travel advice and lunch ideas based on what’s in the fridge – was previously only available in the US and UK.

Note: The author attended I/O as a guest of Google

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But Sissie Hsiao, Vice President and GM for Google Assistant and Bard, announced at Google’s annual developer conference overnight that Bard would be immediately accessible for users in more than 180 countries and territories.

And unlike ChatGPT, Bard users will be able to include images as well as text in prompts.

“As we continue to make additional improvements and introduce new features, we want to get Bard into more people’s hands so they can try it out and share their feedback with us. So today we’re removing the waitlist and opening up Bard to over 180 countries and territories – with more coming soon,” Hsiao said.

AI was a key theme at the Google I/O developers conference. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Microsoft, Facebook and other tech companies have been racing to develop AI-powered tools in the wake of the viral success of ChatGPT.

Google unveiled Bard in February in a demonstration that was later called out for providing an inaccurate response to a question about a telescope. Shares of Google’s parent company Alphabet fell 7.7% that day, wiping US$100 billion off its market value.

Like ChatGPT, which was publicly released last November by AI research company OpenAI, Bard is built on a large language model and is separate to Google’s core Search product. These models are trained on vast troves of data online in order to generate compelling responses to user prompts.

But Bard’s blunder highlighted the challenge Google and other companies face with integrating the technology into their core products. Large language models can present a handful of issues, such as perpetuating biases, being factually incorrect and even responding in an aggressive manner.

Google has since moved Bard to PaLM 2, what it called “a far more capable large language model, which has enabled many of our recent improvements”. The model powers 25 new products and features announced at Google’s I/O conference at its Mountain View HQ.

“As we’ve said from the beginning, large language models are still a nascent technology with known limitations. So as we further expand, we’ll continue to maintain our high standards for quality and local nuances while also ensuring we adhere to our AI principles,” Hsiao added.

AI developments are the core theme of I/O, along with the launches of the Pixel 7a and Pixel Fold smartphones, and the Pixel Tablet with built-in Chromecast. Kicking off the conference, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said AI would be further integrated into tools like Gmail, Photos, Docs and Maps.

“We have an opportunity to make AI even more helpful for everyone. We have been applying AI to make our products radically more helpful. We are re-imagining all our core products,” Pichai said.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote address at the Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The aggressive deployment of AI comes as some lawmakers, advocacy groups and tech insiders continue to raise alarms about the potential for chatbots to spread misinformation and displace jobs.

Australian universities are also rethinking their approaches to AI to prevent students from cheating in exams and assessments. Higher Education institutions, including the University of Sydney, rolled out more old-fashioned pen and paper examinations for students this year, along with increased supervision of exams and online assessments.

And last week, US AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton confirmed he had left his role at Google to speak out about the “dangers” of the Technology he helped to develop.

Hinton’s work on neural networks shaped artificial intelligence systems powering many of today’s products. He worked part-time at Google for a decade on the tech giant’s AI development efforts, but he has since come to have concerns about the technology and his role in advancing it.

“I console myself with the normal excuse: If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have,” Hinton told the New York Times, which was first to report his decision.

Jeff Dean, chief scientist at Google, said Hinton “has made foundational breakthroughs in AI” and expressed appreciation for Hinton’s “decade of contributions at Google.”

“We remain committed to a responsible approach to AI,” Dean said in a statement provided to CNN. “We’re continually learning to understand emerging risks while also innovating boldly.”

Additional reporting by CNN