Microsoft at Davos: Is Your Hair on Fire, Google?

November 2, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

Microsoft said at the January 2023 Davos, AI is the next big thing. The result? Google shifted into Code Red and delivered a wild and crazy demonstration of a deeply flawed AI system in February 2023. I think the phrase “Code Red” became associated to the state of panic within the comfy confines of Googzilla’s executive suites, real and virtual.

Sam AI-man made appearances speaking to anyone who would listen words like “billion dollar investment,” efficiency, and work processes. The result? Googzilla itself  found out that whether Microsoft’s brilliant marketing of AI worked or not, the Softies had just demonstrated that it — not the Google — was a “leader”. The new Microsoft could create revenue  and credibility problems for the Versailles of technology companies.

Therefore, the Google tried to try and be nimble and make the myth of engineering prowess into reality, not a CGI version of Camelot. The PR Camelot featured Google as the Big Dog in the AI world. After all, Google had done the protein thing, an achievement which made absolutely no sense to 99 percent of the earth’s population. Some asked, “What the heck is a protein folder?” I want a Google Waze service that shows me where traffic cameras are.

The Google executives apparently went to meetings with their hair on fire.

11 2 code red at google

A group of Google executives in a meeting with their hair on fire after Microsoft’s Davos AI announcement. Google wanted teams to manifest AI prowess everywhere, lickity split. Google reorganized. Google probed Anthropic and one Googler invested in the company. Dr. Prabhakar Raghavan demonstrated peculiar communication skills.

I had these thoughts after I read “Google Didn’t Rush Bard Chatbot to Beat Microsoft, Executive Says.” So what was this Code Red thing? Why has Google — the quantum supremacy and global leader in online advertising and protein folding — be lagging behind Microsoft? What is it now? Oh, yeah. Almost a year, a reorganization of the Google’s smart software group, and one of Google’s own employees explaining that AI could have a negative impact on the world. Oh, yeah, that guy is one of the founders of Google’s DeepMind AI group. I won’t mention the Googler who thought his chatbot was alive and ended up with an opportunity to find his future elsewhere. Right. Code Red. I want to note Timnit Gebru and the stochastic parrot, the Jeff Dean lateral arabesque, and the significant investment in a competitor’s AI technology. Right. Standard operating procedure for an online advertising company with a fairly healthy self concept about its excellence and droit du seigneur.

The Bloomberg article reports which I am assuming is “real”, actual factual information:

A senior Google executive disputed suggestions that the company rushed to release its artificial intelligence-based chatbot Bard earlier this year to beat a similar offering from rival Microsoft Corp. Testifying in Google’s defense at the Justice Department’s antitrust trial against the search giant, Elizabeth Reid, a vice president of search, acknowledged that Bard gave “a wrong answer” during its public unveiling in February. But she rejected the contention by government lawyer David Dahlquist that Bard was “rushed” out after Microsoft announced it was integrating generative AI into its own Bing search engine.

The real news story pointed out:

Google’s public demonstration of Bard underwhelmed investors. In one instance, Bard was asked about new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope. The chatbot incorrectly stated the telescope was used to take the first pictures of a planet outside the Earth’s solar system. While the Webb telescope was the first to photograph one particular planet outside the Earth’s solar system, NASA first photographed a so-called exoplanet in 2004. The mistake led to a sharp fall in Alphabet’s stock. “It’s a very subtle language difference,” Reid said in explaining the error in her testimony Wednesday. “The amount of effort to ensure that a paragraph is correct is quite a lot of work.” “The challenges of fact-checking are hard,” she added.

Yes, facts are hard in Hallucinationville? I think the concept I take away from this statement is that PR is easier than making technology work. But today Google and similar firms are caught in what I call a “close enough for horseshoes” mind set. Smart software, in my experience, is like my dear, departed mother’s  not-quite-done pineapple upside down cakes. Yikes, those were a mess. I could eat the maraschino cherries but nothing else. The rest was deposited in the trash bin.

And where are the “experts” in smart search? Prabhakar? Danny? I wonder if they are embarrassed by their loss of their thick lustrous hair. I think some of it may have been singed after the outstanding Paris demonstration and subsequent Mountain View baloney festivals. Was Google behaving like a child frantically searching for his mom at the AI carnival? I suppose when one is swathed in entitlements, cashing huge paychecks, and obfuscating exactly how the money is extracted from advertisers, reality is distorted.

Net net: Microsoft at Davos caused Google’s February 2023 Paris presentation. That mad scramble has caused to conclude that talking about AI is a heck of a lot easier than delivering reliable, functional, and thought out products. Is it possible to deliver such products when one’s hair is on fire? Some data say, “Nope.”

Stephen E Arnold, November 2, 2023


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