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ChatGPT AI Threat Pulls Google Co-Founders Back Into Action, Report Says

Sergey Brin and Larry Page are helping the company respond to an impressive technology that is a direct threat to Google's search business.

A Google sign outside the company's offices in Mountain View, California
Google headquarters sprawls across a large campus in Mountain View, California.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

ChatGPT, the high-profile AI chatbot from OpenAI, is such a serious threat to Google's core business that the company's co-founders are reengaged with the search giant, The New York Times reported Friday.

Startup OpenAI debuted ChatGPT in November, and within a few days more than a million people had begun prompting it with an enormous range of questions and requests. The artificial intelligence system has been trained on vast quantities of text on the internet and can answer questions, compose essays, write computer programs and generate all kinds of information.

ChatGPT can sound authoritative, but it isn't always right, and you can't tell where it's drawing its answers from. It's impressive enough to be a viral hit on the internet, though, and it's useful enough that Google reportedly declared a "code red" response to ChatGPT.

Now, at the behest of Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent company Alphabet, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are looking into the issue, the Times reported. They'd largely stepped out of day-to-day operating roles in 2019.

Google has a rival AI technology called PaLM, but it hasn't made that AI system available for public use. And it's an AI pioneer, inventing the "transformer" technology that's at the heart of large language models like PaLM and OpenAI's ChatGPT foundation, GPT-3. In a blog post this week the company summarized several areas where Google is using AI, for everything from suggesting email replies to placing ads.

Google didn't comment on the co-founders' moves or its stance on ChatGPT. But spokesperson Lily Lin said ensuring AI is used safely is important to the company.

"We believe that AI is foundational and transformative technology that is incredibly useful for individuals, businesses and communities, and as our AI Principles outline, we need to consider the broader societal impacts these innovations can have," Lin said. "We continue to test our AI technology internally to make sure it's helpful and safe, and we look forward to sharing more experiences externally soon."

Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster sees ChatGPT, GPT-3 and large language models as a competitive threat to Google.

"One possible future is that these LLMs could be built into the backend of many of the tech services we use," Munster said in a Friday report. "This is the outcome that could hurt Google in the long-term."

Ultimately, though, Google should be able to withstand the threat, he predicted. With four services that each have more than a billion users, and $60 billion in annual operating income from search, Google has "more than enough money to fund investments that will yield a ChatGPT competitor."

Editors' note: CNET is using an AI engine to create some personal finance explainers that are edited and fact-checked by our editors. For more, see this post.