Google CEO says he isn't worried about catching up to OpenAI after the search engine reportedly declared a 'code red': 'I feel very comfortable about where we are.'

  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai isn't in a rush to catch up to OpenAI, he told Wired.

  • Releasing Google's AI products before ChatGPT was launched "wouldn't have worked out as well," he said.

  • Pichai's thoughts on AI come months after Google reportedly declared a "code red" for its search engine, per NYT.

Since OpenAI launched ChatGPT, its buzzy AI chatbot, last November, big tech companies like Microsoft have released their own generative AI tools to cash in on the AI hype. But Google isn't in a rush to catch up — at least for now.

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, said in an interview that he was excited when ChatGPT came out because it showed that people were "ready to understand and play with the technology."

But even though Google has been making strides to become an "AI-first company" since 2016, Pichai said he felt that Google's AI technology "needed to mature a bit more before we put it in our products."

"In some ways, it was an exciting moment for me, because we are building that underlying technology and deploying it across our products," Pichai told Wired in an interview published on Monday. "But we are still being deliberate where we need to be. The technology arc is long, and I feel very comfortable about where we are."

When asked if Google should have launched "something like GPT earlier than OpenAI did," Pichai said that doing so wouldn't make much of a difference for Google's bottom line in the long-run.

"It's not fully clear to me that it might have worked out as well," Pichai said in response to Wired's question. "The fact is, we could do more after people had seen how it works. It really won't matter in the next five to 10 years."

Google didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment before publication.

Pichai's recent comments on AI seemed to have strayed away from his concerns that Google may be falling behind on its AI efforts. In December 2022 — just weeks after ChatGPT came out — the New York Times reported that Google's management declared a "code red" for the company out of fear that OpenAI's chatbot may one day replace Google's search engine.

Since then, Pichai has been ramping up Google's efforts to launch its own generative AI tools. As of December, the CEO, per the Times, redirected numerous groups in the company to refocus their efforts on addressing the threat that ChatGPT poses to its search engine business.

In March, Google released its own AI chatbot, which it calls Bard, to select users, though its initial demonstration in February was seen as a flop after Bard gave an inaccurate answer to a question about the James Webb Space Telescope.

In turn, Google employees called the Bard's launch "rushed" and "botched," and even John Hennessy, the chairman of Google's parent company, Alphabet, said that the chatbot wasn't "really ready for a product yet."

Since the disastrous demo, Google has announced a slate of new AI products. In May, Google launched a service it calls "Duet AI for Workspace," where generative AI features have been integrated into Google Docs, Sheets, Gmail, and other preexisting products that the company says can boost creativity and productivity.

As of late August, Duet AI is now available for anyone to use.

Despite Google's new AI efforts, Pichai told Wired that integrating generative AI into its search engine — the product that generated approximately $208 billion in ad dollars, or 81% of Alphabet's overall revenue, in 2021 — remains his company's key focus in its AI strategy. But only time will tell whether Google's core business will be able to survive.

"It's important to us to connect users with what's out on the web, and we are working deeply to make sure that continues to work well," Pichai said.

Correction: September 13, 2023 – An earlier version of this story erroneously said Google CEO Sundar Pichai declared a "code red" over the company's search engine. The "code red" reference is based on a New York Times report that cites Google management, and Pichai has denied making such a declaration. The story also misstated the Google search engine's 2021 ad revenue. It was approximately $208 billion, not $208 million.

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