Google and OpenAI: The Big Dust Up

February 8, 2023

Let’s go back to high school English class and a very demanding spinster named Miss Drake. Her test question was, “Who wrote this line?”

O heaven! that one might read the book of fate, and see the revolution of the times. (Henry IV, Part 2 [~ 1597] Act 3)

Do you remember? I do. The answer is the Bard of Avon, and he allegedly spun the phrase from his brain cells or he ripped it off from another playwright. Yeah, the plagiarism thing has not been resolved, and it is unclear if and with whom the Bard sucked in content and output a money-making play. Was the real Bard a primordial version of a creator on YouTube? Sure, why not draw that connection?

Now back to the quote. I like the idea of “the revolution of the times.”

The idea is that some wizard like Sundar or Prabhakar can check out the “Book of Fate” which may or may be among the works in the Google data warehouse and see the future. Just the Palantir seeing stone which works so darned well as those SPAC bets attest. Perhaps that’s what happened when Google declared a Code Red? Fear and a big bet that the GOOG can de-momentum ChatGPT.

When did OpenAI become a thing? I would suggest that it was in 2015 if one believes Sillycon Valley history. The next highlight of what was something of note took place in 2019 but possibly earlier when Microsoft plopped some Azure cycles on the OpenAI conference table. Two years later we get this:

Google at Code Red over ChatGPT As Teams Reassigned to Work on Competing AI Products

Almost coincident with Google’s realizing that people were genuinely excited about ChatGPT, Google realized that Prabhakar’s hair had caught on fire. Sundar, the Sillycon Valley manager par excellence called back the original Relevance Revolutionaries (Messrs. Brin and Page) after Microsoft made it evident to the well-fed at Davos that Softies were good at marketing. Maybe Microsoft fell short of the “Start Me Up” for the outstandingly “good enough” Windows 95, but the Chat GPT deal is notable. To make sure the GOOG got the message that Microsoft was surfing on the waves created by ChatGPT, another bundle of billions were allocated to OpenAI and ChatGPT. The time was January 2023, and it was clear that millions of norms interested in Microsoft’s use of ChatGPT in those “good enough” engineering marvels, and the Google infused Edge browser.

Where are we on Wednesday, February 8, 2023? How about this as a marker:

Google said Bard would be widely available to the public in the next few weeks. Source:

Yep, the killer words are right there—”would be.” Not here, the conditional future, just a limited test. Not integrated into heaven knows how many apps like OpenAI. Not here like the collection of links generated by Matt Shumer. Not here like the YouTube videos explaining how to build an app from scratch with ChatGPT. Nope. Google is into the “to be” and “demo” mode.

Let’s do simple math on Google’s situational awareness:

  • 2015 OpenAI and Elon Musk are visible
  • 2019 Microsoft provides some “money” which may be a round trip to pay for Azure cycles
  • 2022 (November) ChatGPT gets a million users in five days
  • 2022 (December) Google feels the heat from burning hair and screeches “Code Red”
  • 2023 (January) Davos talks about ChatGPT, not just the new world order, power, money, and where to eat dinner
  • 2023 (February) Google says, “Out version of ChatGPT is coming… soon. Really, very soon.” But for now it’s a limited demo. And Microsoft? The ChatGPT thing turned up when one of my team ran a query on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. Yep, ready or not there it was.

Several observations:

  1. The Sundar and Prabhakar duo missed the boat on the impact of ChatGPT for search. Err, you are supposed to be the search wizards, and you are standing on the platform waiting for the next train to arrive?
  2. The uptake of ChatGPT may be a reaction against the Google search system, not a reaction to the inherent greatness of ChatGPT. A certain search company with a 90 percent share and a genuine disdain to relevant responses to users’ queries may have boosted the interest in ChatGPT. If I am correct, this is an unintended consequence of being Googley.
  3. The Microsoft marketing move is an outstanding [a] bit of luck, [b] a super star tactic that warrants a Grammy (oh, wait, the Grammies suck), or [c] a way to breathe new life into products which suffer from featuritis and a lack of differentiation.

Net net: Sundar and Prabhakar are destined for Harvard case study glory. Also, the dynamic duo may pull a marshmallow from the fire, but will it make a great S’more? Does sophomoric rhyme with Anthropic. And Code Red? The revolution of the times might be here as the Bard wrote or obtained from a fellow playwright.

Stephen E Arnold, February 8, 2023


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