Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O developer conference in Mountain View, California, U.S., Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google executives continue to grapple with the fallout from last month’s botched announcement of a company called Bard’s artificial intelligence engine, but their efforts to clean up the mess are causing further confusion among the workforce.

In Thursday’s all-hands meeting, executives answered questions from Dory, the company’s internal forum, with most of the top-rated questions dealing with priorities around Bard, according to audio obtained by CNBC. This is the first company-wide meeting since then Google Employees criticized management, most notably CEO Sundar Pichai, for how it handled the announcement by Bard, Google’s ChatGPT competitor.

Wall Street chastised Google parent Alphabet for rolling out Bard, sending shares tumbling on concerns that the company’s main search engine is at risk of being crowded out as consumers eventually turn to AI-powered answers that allow for more conversational and creative answers. Employees called Google’s initial public presentation “rushed,” “failed,” and “un-Google.”

Jack Krawczyk, head of product at Bard, made his debut on Thursday and answered Dora’s next question, which was reviewed by CNBC.

“Bard and ChatGPT are big language models, not knowledge models. They’re great at producing human-sounding text, they’re not good at guaranteeing their text is fact-based. Why we think the first big app should be Search , what is at his heart – the search for true information?”

The shopkeeper instantly responded, “I just want to make it very clear: Bard is not a quest.”

“This is an experiment, which is a joint service of artificial intelligence, which we talked about,” Krauchyk said. “The magic we find in using this product is that we are this creative companion that helps you be a candle to your imagination, explore your curiosity, etc.”

But Krawczyk was quick to follow up, saying, “We can’t stop users from trying to use it as a search.”

He said Google is still serving people who want to use it to search, indicating that the company has created a new feature for internal use called Search.

“We will try to improve the generation of related requests, as well as convey our trust to users,” said Krauchyk. He added that users will see a tab that says “view other drafts,” which steers people away from search-like results.

“But as you want to delve into more search-oriented travel, we already have a product for that — it’s called search,” he said.

The effort to separate Bard from the search seemed to mark a reversal of the original strategy, based on what CNBC staffers said and on internal memes that have circulated in recent weeks. In the run-up to Bard’s announcement, Google executives repeatedly said the technology they were developing internally would integrate with search.

Several Google employees, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter, told CNBC that inconsistent responses from executives had led to more confusion.

Elizabeth Reid, vice president of search engineering, echoed Krawczyk’s comments on Thursday, focusing on the company’s extensive use of large language models (LLM).

“Like Jack said, Bard isn’t really involved with the quest,” Reed said. “We have quite a long history of bringing law masters into the search,” she said, referring to models named Burt and Mam.

But while the company is experimenting with the LLM, it wants to “keep the essence of what search is,” Reed said.

In Google’s announcement last month, he mentioned search several times.

“We’re working to bring these latest AI advances to our products, starting with search,” the company said in a blog post.

That same week, at an event in Paris, Google search boss Prabhakar Raghavan presented some fresh examples of Bard being used in search. And after the announcement, company executives urged all employees to help by spending several hours taking Bard tests and rewriting incorrect answers, citing “a great responsibility to be correct.”

CNBC also previously reported that the company is testing different home search page designs integrated into Bard.

Another top-rated question on Thursday asked Pichai about different uses for Bard, as Googlers were asked to help with searches and “rewrite queries with factual information.”

“It’s important to recognize that this is experimental,” Pichai said in his response. “It’s also important to recognize the limitations of these products.” These limitations are something he has addressed in the past.

Pichai said that with Bard, “you’re opening up an opportunity for users to talk to LLM” that will improve over time. “And obviously we’re in product development,” he said.

“These kinds of products get better the more people use them,” Pichai said. “It’s a good cycle.”

“It’s a busy time”

After the launch of Google Bard in February, Alphabet shares fell nearly 9%, suggesting investors were hoping for more in light of growing competition from Microsoft, which is a major investor in ChatGPT creator OpenAI.

Employees are well aware of how the introduction was received.

“The first public demonstration was demoralizing, sent our stock plummeting and caused extensive media coverage,” a Dory employee’s comment read aloud. Then came the question, “What really happened?” and a request to “please share your honest thoughts on what went wrong with the Bard launch.”

Pichai was referring to Krauchik’s response, which danced around the topic without giving a direct answer.

“Such questions may be fair, and we want to reiterate the fact that Bard did not launch,” said Krawczyk. – We admitted to the world that this is what we are experimenting with – we are testing it. But there’s a lot of buzz in the industry right now.”

Krauchyk also referred to the event that took place in Microsoft headquarters that week, where the company demonstrated how OpenAI technology can power Bing search results and other products.

“You see the ChatGPT stories dovetail with the event that we’re doing, which was really focused on search,” Krawczyk said. “There may be issues with external perception, but as you heard today, we continue to focus on Bard’s testing.”

Krawczyk added that Google is excited to get this technology “in the hands of users to capture their creativity.”

Pichai chimed in, saying, “It’s a busy time.”

“The point of the blog post was that after we decided we were going to external trusted testers, things could have leaked, and it was important that we put that out there,” Pichai said. “We haven’t launched the product yet. And obviously, when we launch, we’ll make it clear that this is an experimental product.”

Pichai said the company hopes to provide more details after Google IO, the annual developer conference. Google has not yet announced the date of the event.

Another top-rated employee comment from Dora said, “Launching AI seems like a knee-jerk reaction with no strategy.”

Pichai began his answer by saying that Google spends more money on AI research and development than any other company.

“I don’t agree with the premise of that question,” he said with a smile. “We have been working on AI for a long time. You’re right in the sense that we need to focus on the users and make sure we’re building things that have an impact.” He said, “User input is going to be an important part of the process, so it’s important to get it right.”

Jeff Dean, head of artificial intelligence at Google LLC, speaks during the Google AI event in San Francisco, California, U.S., Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Pichai asked Jeff Dean, Google’s head of artificial intelligence, about the company’s loss of top talent. In particular, the question asked why Google lost so many key people who were listed in the paper about most of the artificial intelligence technology behind Bard.

“I think it’s important to understand that this is a super competitive field,” Dean said. “People with these skills are in high demand.”

Dean said Google has “two of the best AI research teams in the world” and “people working side-by-side to advance the state-of-the-art AI technology.”

Despite the competition in the market, “we have the ability to put things in newspapers, but also work on products that touch millions of users every day,” Dean said.

Pichai added that “over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking to some people who want to join Google who are literally some of the best ML researchers and engineers on the planet.”

A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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