Google CEO Sundar Pichai Clarifies ChatGPT ‘Code Red’ Rumor, Bard Flop

Sundar Pichai said launching Bard was like taking a souped-up Civic and putting it in a race with more powerful cars.

Sundar Pichai in a black suit.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google (GOOGL) CEO Sundar Pichai said he never actually declared a “code red” within the company to develop a competing product of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, as widely reported by news organizations in December, a few weeks before Google announced Bard, its artificial intelligence chatbot.

“I’m laughing, because first of all, I did not issue a code red,” Pichai said during an episode of the New York Times’ podcast Hard Fork on March 31 when asked by host Casey Newton how a CEO’s “code red” changes life inside Google.

“I am definitely asking teams to move with urgency,” Pichai said. “I’m asking, in a deep way, engaging with the teams to understand how we are going to use LLMs (large language models) or generative AI to translate into deep, meaningful experiences… There are people who have probably sent emails saying there is a code red.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Pichai also discussed the mixed public reactions to Bard since its launch and why he intentionally put an imperfect product out in the market despite high expectations on Google’s answer to ChatGPT.

Google unveiled Bard on Feb. 6 and it almost immediately became a flop after making a simple mistake during a product demo. User reactions to Bard so far have been largely muted, with some people saying it’s not as good as ChatGPT or Microsoft’s GPT-enhanced Bing.

Pichai said the initial version of Bard was powered by a lightweight version of LaMDA, a GPT-like language model Google had worked on for several years. Because of the scaled-back model, “in some ways I feel like we took a souped-up Civic, kind of put it in a race with more powerful cars,” Pichai said.

“But we are going to be training fast,” he added. “We clearly have more capable models. Pretty soon, we will be upgrading Bard to some of our more capable PaLM models, which will bring more capabilities, be it in reasoning, coding. It can answer math questions better.”

As the popularity of generative A.I. tools like ChatGPT surges, there is a growing concern among tech leaders A.I. could outsmart humans before we have a chance to control it. Last week, more than 1,000 academics and tech entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk, signed an open letter urging A.I. companies to pause training advanced language models for six months and draft a set of shared safety protocols.

Safety is one of the reasons Google wants to improve Bard gradually, Pichai said.

“We knew when we were putting Bard out we wanted to be careful. It’s the beginning of a journey for us,” he said. “To me, it was important to not put a more capable model before we can fully make sure we can handle it well. A.I. is the most profound technology humanity will ever work on. I’ve always felt that for a while.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Clarifies ChatGPT ‘Code Red’ Rumor, Bard Flop