The Download: Google’s Bard experiment, and Ernie Bot’s rehabilitation

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Google just launched Bard, its answer to ChatGPT—and it wants you to make it better

Google has launched Bard, the search giant’s answer to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing Chat. Unlike Bing Chat, Bard does not look up search results—all the information it returns is generated by the model itself. But it is still designed to help users brainstorm and answer queries. Google wants Bard to become an integral part of the Google Search experience.

The company is now making the chatbot available for free to early users who sign up to a waitlist, to help test and improve the technology in what they say is still an experiment. 

But experts worry that pitching Bard as an experiment is a PR trick that larger companies use to reach millions of customers while also removing themselves from accountability if anything goes wrong. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

The bearable mediocrity of Baidu’s ChatGPT competitor

When Baidu revealed Ernie Bot last week, the first Chinese rival to ChatGPT was met with an almost overwhelming wave of disappointment. Chinese publications with testing access ridiculed the chatbot’s performance, social media users mocked it with memes, and Baidu’s stock dropped by 6.4%.

But a curious thing has happened since last week’s launch: Ernie Bot’s reputation seems to have bounced back. More Chinese reporters gained access to the chatbot, and there’s been a general realization that Ernie Bot is probably good enough for the Chinese market. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, MIT Technology Review’s weekly newsletter examining power and tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 TikTok is preparing to testify before US Congress
CEO Shou Zi Chew has warned politicians that banning TikTok could harm the US economy. (Vox)
+ He’s determined to allay fears that TikTok shares data with China’s government. (WP $)
+ Its recommendation algorithm is at the heart of the geopolitical tug of war. (FT $)

2 Google’s Bard is incredibly cautious
But it’s still prepared to make up things up. (NYT $)
+ Its sense of humor could do with some work. (WP $)
+ Bard comes up poorly against rivals GPT-4 and Claude. (TechCrunch)

3 Scientists are being prevented from accessing data on covid’s origins
They’ve been locked out of a vital database. (The Atlantic $)

4 How we count abortions in America now
Tracking the number of abortions post-Roe is fraught with complications. (Undark Magazine)
+ The cognitive dissonance of watching the end of Roe unfold online. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Bitcoin is booming (yet again)
It’s bounced back from FTX’s collapse with aplomb. (WSJ $)
+ Crypto exchanges are scouting around for a new FTX. (Bloomberg $)
+ An imminent ruling from New York has the industry on tenterhooks. (Wired $)
+ It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Ticket scalpers are always one step ahead
No matter how hard artists try to outwit them. (Motherboard)

7 What does a post-search internet look like?
When chatbots become aggregators, the web becomes a lot less social. (New Yorker $)

8 Inside Taiwan’s most mysterious chipmaker
TSMC is the world’s biggest semiconductor company, and notoriously secretive. (Wired $)
+ What’s next for the chip industry. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Tinder swindlers are becoming more brazen
Romance fraud is on the rise, and confident young men are the targets. (The Verge)

10 3D-printers are being used to produce food 🍰
Cheesecake’s on the menu. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“Bankrupt, Silicon Valley Bank now is. Pensions, people lost.”

—What a Yoda chatbot had to say on the banking crisis currently engulfing the tech industry, Bloomberg reports.

The big story

Whatever happened to DNA computing?

October 2021

For more than five decades, engineers have shrunk silicon-­based transistors over and over again, creating progressively smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient computers in the process. But the long technological winning streak—and the miniaturization that has enabled it —can’t last forever.

What could this successor technology be? There has been no shortage of alternative computing approaches proposed over the last 50 years. Here are five of the more memorable ones. Read about five of the most memorable ones.

—Lakshmi Chandrasekaran

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ What can I say, cows love jazz.
+ Rick Rubin, who knows a thing or two about creativity, says we can all tap into our innate brilliance. What’re you waiting for?
+ Please tell me this is fake.
+ Everyone’s fighting over this super remote home.
+ We could all do with learning how to be better losers.

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