Why Google needs Bard to head off a resurgent Microsoft

Bing, the widely discredited search engine from Microsoft, is now in the ascendancy. The company recently announced it would be integrating results generated by ChatGPT into its search engine, making it a supercharged one that could compete with Google. It made many question whether Google would continue to be the default search engine for users.

Things are exciting on the internet once more, as for the first time in a decade or more, there is a real fight between two tech titans to see who can come out on top for a key slice of our daily lives. One of the last times this happened was in the great browser wars that were last won by Google Chrome’s release in 2008, and the speedy way it reached the top of the pile within years.

But today, it’s about something equally fundamental to our lives: the search engine. Google is the most visited website in the world, and for many people is the internet’s front page. It’s the way that they manage to access the wealth of information available on the world wide web, and it has attained a reputation that few other things in our lives do: the ability to take a brand name and make it a generic action. Like hoovering, Googling is now a common term even if you’re not using Google, so dominant is the site.

But it might not be dominant for much longer.

Enter Bing

Following Microsoft’s announcement, Google has hit back with its own alternative – Bard. It has been positioned as an AI-powered rival to Bing that could assure Google of its continued place atop the search engine tree. There’s just one problem: its launch has not exactly gone off without a hitch. Bard’s grand unveiling was spoiled somewhat by the AI-powered tool producing a wrong answer for a search term, wiping billions off the value of Google as a result.

Yet despite that major foible with the AI-powered tool – one that, thanks to AI’s tendency to hallucinate and fictionalise answers to questions it doesn’t know, is likely to be increasingly common if generative AI is used as a cornerstone of search in the years to come – it is still an important part of Google’s future.

The next billion users

For years Google has been able to comparatively rest on its laurels, confident that few companies can catch up to its supremacy in search quickly. But generative AI blows that out of the water. Now it needs to counteract ChatGPT and Bing’s rise with something of its own – which is why Bard is so vital to the company’s future.

Industry experts and analysts believe that Bard is the thing that could help stave off any competition and keep Google at the top of the search engine rankings, in large part because it can piggyback from Google’s already enormous scale. “Google Bard, if fully rolled out, will reach at least 1 billion users,” Jim Fan, an AI scientist at Nvidia, said in a Twitter thread, adding that this was an “underestimate.”

Fan said that one of the benefits for Google was that users were already using its tools and so it didn’t have to go through the costly and complicated process of acquiring users. Bard, when rolled out to search results, will simply be there, another addition to a user’s window as they access Google for the first time.

That is a huge advantage for them – but it’s a necessary one because we are now in an AI-powered world, and users now expect something more from their search engines. Google Bard is the thing that can help head off Microsoft’s resurgence, powered by ChatGPT. But it needs to work well in order to do so.

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