Saturday, March 25, 2023

A first look at Google's Bard AI Search Engine

I recently signed up to try Bard, Google's new AI search engine. As the site says, Bard is still in its experimental stage and won't necessarily find the right answers. This disclaimer may have been prompted by the embarrassing mistake Google made when they published Bard's now famous inaccurate answer to a space telescope query that precipitated a billion dollar market devaluation for Google.

So, as an experiment on the experimental platform, I entered a classic search challenge: "How many buffalo are there today in North America?" (I didn't place quotes around the query.) The new AI platform should be proficient in parsing the meaning which isn't tricky, except that a better term for buffalo is bison, which Google quickly corrected.

The first result was reasonable sounding: 400,000 bison in North America. This was accompanied by a description of bison. Something missing, however, was the citation. I could not tell from where Google had gathered this information. For anyone doing research, that is a big omission--making it impossible to fact check details from the source.

As I looked for a possible source, I clicked the New Response button. To my surprise, Google served up a different answer with no mention of a source: 1.5 million bison. I tried it a third time: 200,000 bison in North America. Fourth time: 500,000.

Third Query
Clicking 'View other drafts' produced other numbers.

Of course, the question is "Which number is right?" They can't all be.

These results are essentially the same as entering the query in regular Google and looking at the first page of results. The numbers are all over the place. To determine which has sufficient credibility, one needs to look at the source, the publication date and what organizations link to the information.

Practically speaking, it may not be possible to determine the best number of bison. That is why the recommendation for using information is to cite the source (according to... the number is...). Bard doesn't make that possible (yet). Let's hope the developers behind Bard see the benefit of providing source details as they continue to refine it.

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