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Google shares drop $100 billion after its new AI chatbot makes a mistake

Shares for Google's parent company, Alphabet, dropped 9% Wednesday after its AI chatbot, Bard, gave an incorrect answer.
Dan Kitwood
Getty Images
Shares for Google's parent company, Alphabet, dropped 9% Wednesday after its AI chatbot, Bard, gave an incorrect answer.

Google's parent company, Alphabet, lost $100 billion in market value on Wednesday after its new artificial intelligence technology produced a factual error in its first demo.

It's a bruising reception for Bard, the conversational bot that Google launched as a competitor to Microsoft's headline-making darling, ChatGPT.

In the fateful ad that ran on Google's Twitter feed this week, the company described Bard as "a launchpad for curiosity" and a search tool to "help simplify complex topics."

An accompanying GIF prompts Bard with the question, "What new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope can I tell my 9 year old about?" The chatbot responds with a few bullet points, including the claim that the telescope took the very first pictures of "exoplanets," or planets outside of earth's solar system.

"These discoveries can spark a child's imagination about the infinite wonders of the universe," Bard says.

But the James Webb Telescope didn't discover exoplanets. The European Southern Observatory's very large telescope took the first pictures of those special celestial bodies in 2004, a fact that NASA confirms.

Social media users quickly pointed out that the company could've fact-checked the exoplanet claim by, well, Googling it.

The ad aired just hours before Google's senior executives touted Bard as the future of the company at a launch event in Paris. By Wednesday, Alphabet shares had slid as much as 9% during trading hours, balancing out by the day's close.

Meanwhile, shares for Microsoft, Google's rival, rose by 3%. Microsoft announced this week that it would incorporate ChatGPT into products like its Bing search engine. The company has invested $10 billion into OpenAI, the start-up that created ChatGPT.

Led by Microsoft, AI technology has recently taken Silicon Valley by storm, dazzling investors and sparking fear in writers for its ability to answer questions in plain, simple language rather than a list of links.

Ethicists warn the technology raises the risk of biased answers,increased plagiarism and the spread of misinformation. Though they're often perceived as all-knowing machines, AI bots frequently state incorrect information as fact because they're designed to fill in gaps.

The flurry of AI innovation comes amidst widespread job cuts in the tech sector. Alphabet cut about 6% of its global workforce — or 12,000 jobs — last month.

Google did not respond to NPR's request for comment. In a Monday blog post, CEO Sundar Pichai said Bard will be available exclusively to "trusted testers" before releasing the engine publicly in the coming weeks.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.