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Google’s Plan to Catch ChatGPT Is to Stuff AI Into Everything

A new internal directive requires “generative artificial intelligence” to be incorporated into all of its biggest products within months.

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Illustration: Nick Little for Bloomberg Businessweek

Artificial intelligence was supposed to be Google’s thing. The company has cultivated a reputation for making long-term bets on all kinds of far-off technologies, and much of the research underpinning the current wave of AI-powered chatbots took place in its labs. Yet a startup called OpenAI has emerged as an early leader in so-called generative AI—software that can produce its own text, images or videos—by launching ChatGPT in November. Its sudden success has left Google parent company Alphabet Inc. sprinting to catch up in a key subfield of the technology that Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai has said will be “more profound than fire or electricity.”

ChatGPT, which some see as an eventual challenger to Google’s traditional search engine, seems doubly threatening given OpenAI’s close ties to Microsoft Corp. The feeling that Google may be falling behind in an area that it has considered a key strength has led to no small measure of anxiety in Mountain View, California, according to current and former employees as well as others close to the company, many of whom asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t allowed to speak publicly. As one current employee puts it: “There is an unhealthy combination of abnormally high expectations and great insecurity about any AI-related initiative.”