ChatGPT Caused 'Code Red' at Google, Report Says

ChatGPT can deliver direct answers quickly, not pages of endless links. That's reportedly scaring Google.

Imad Khan Senior Reporter
Imad is a senior reporter covering Google and internet culture. Hailing from Texas, Imad started his journalism career in 2013 and has amassed bylines with The New York Times, The Washington Post, ESPN, Tom's Guide and Wired, among others.
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Imad Khan
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ChatGPT, an AI chatbot developed by OpenAI that went viral because it can give people direct answers to just about any query possible, apparently has alarm bells ringing at Google, according to a report by the New York Times Wednesday.

A Google executive the Times spoke to but didn't name said AI chatbots like ChatGPT could upend the search giant's business, which relies heavily on ads and e-commerce found in Google Search. In a memo and audio recording obtained by the Times, the publication says CEO Sundar Pichai has been in meetings to "define Google's AI strategy" and has "upended the work of numerous groups inside the company to respond to the threat that ChatGPT poses."

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot that uses available data found online to give users conversational answers to a host of questions. Unlike Google Search, which scrubs the internet for potential answers and gives people links that they themselves must read through, ChatGPT delivers unique and novel answers never written by humans before. For example, a person can ask ChatGPT to write a haiku about pikachu eating SPAM musubi and ChatGPT will produce a convincing answer:

Pikachu munches,
Spam musubi disappears,
Delicious treats gone.

While Google has been aggressively building its own AI technologies, it's been slow to release them to the public, fearing how it might affect society, according to a memo viewed by The Times. Part of the reason is that answers are based on human-made data currently available online. That means racism, bias and misinformation can bleed into a chatbot's learning model, giving unsavory answers. It's why Microsoft had to hastily take its AI chatbot offline in 2016 shortly after it was introduced. Facebook parent Meta also introduced a chatbot, but it quickly began giving racist answers.

For the moment, Google continues to rely on its search business, which makes money through ads and e-commerce sales and accounted for nearly 80% of its revenue last quarter. Since chatbots aim to give answers in natural language, it may be harder to integrate ads. Not only that, the processing required to deliver believable answers by scrubbings immensely large pools of data can get expensive. One estimate has OpenAI spending $3 million per month, and that's with ChatGPT still currently in beta, requiring people make an account, and with it occasionally going offline due to high load. Still, if chatbots build on large language models, like Google's own LaMDA, gain in popularity, not only could it kill the college essay (or be great for college essays), it could also kill Google's main money maker. 

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.