The battle of the chatbots: What will be the next ChatGPT?
We’re just over a month into 2023 and it’s already turning out to be the year of the chatbot.
Voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri have taken a backseat to the newest trend (or fad) in tech: conversational artificial intelligence.
Both Google and Microsoft are plugging chatbots into their search engines to make them smarter. Instead of making you trawl through countless websites, the chatterboxes will directly answer your questions on virtually any topic. At least that’s the hype.
The gold rush to create the next big talkative AI helper is fuelled by the overnight success of ChatGPT. This is a chatbot demo created by research lab OpenAI that has been used by 100 million users in two months. Its arrival has effectively mainstreamed the tech, demonstrating that chatbots can be more than just simplistic customer support tools that spout preset answers.
But, you may be surprised to learn that there are several other chatbots available to the public, one of which has been around since 2017.
We’ve rounded up the most notable examples of the tech, while pointing out some glaring absences (Apple, anyone?).
What is it? A long-running social chatbot with its own virtual avatar
While Replika has an even more catchy concept than ChatGPT, it has been trundling along since 2017 with relatively little fanfare. It’s AI that tries to interact like a virtual friend, to seem like a real person. They even get a The Sims-like visual avatar, and you can choose their gender on creating an account.
Replika feels as much like a game as an AI. There are in-platform currency platforms that reinforce this vibe too.
It’s fun to try out, but is not very intelligent or versatile. Replika was also just barred from using users’ data in Italy over concerns about younger people using the manipulative-by-design platform.
What is it? Viral tech demo
This conversation-modelling AI ChatGPT is made by Open AI, which has partnered with Microsoft to work on its future AI tech.
Who’s ready for the AI Bing search engine? ChatGPT has opened many people’s eyes to the possibilities of AI chat tools, mostly because it has been open to the public for months. Or at least it was until the platform became routinely overloaded.
You can ask it for anything, from the league position of a football team, to the first chapter of a vampire novel starring the cast of The Archers.
It has a habit of spouting absolute nonsense as fact, however, but hopefully that will be ironed out slightly when this tech is less of a tech demo.
What is it? We don’t know yet
Apple has not announced anything about its upcoming use of AI.
The common-sense path would be for Apple to use AI to create the next generation of Siri.
It does seem something may be coming soon, though, because Apple is holding an AI Summit for employees next week. This is a private event, but it could be used to better inform Apple staff about AI announcements to be made at WWDC in June. This is an Apple show where upcoming nerdy features are shown off and discussed.
What is it? The future of Google search
Google announced its Bard chat tool in February 2023. It’s based on a slimmed-down version of the laMDA tech Google showed off in 2021, where the AI “talked to itself”, one half posing as the dwarf planet Pluto and the other a (relatively) normal person.
Bard is currently in testing and is unlikely to be quite as wild as that. Expect a smarter version of the experience you get with Google Assistant, opening up much more concise and specialised answers to web queries.
What is it? An old-school search engine with AI
You.com may initially appear a bit retro, or like a knock-off of the more popular search engines.
However, it does have an AI chat engine called YouChat that offers an early view of what AI web searches may feel like.
You can ask it all sorts of questions, and they’ll spill out line-by-line as if written by synthetic person.
As with other AIs it will at times spout nonsense, but does arrange basic requests in a fairly easy-to-read way.
Microsoft Bing and Edge
What is it? ChatGPT for Bing searches and the Edge web browser
Microsoft is hoping to give Bing a new lease of life by integrating an improved version of ChatGPT with its overlooked search engine.
Billed as the “next-gen” OpenAI language model, one way the bot is superior to ChatGPT is it can provide contemporary answers to queries.
Microsoft is also adding OpenAI’s chatbot to its Edge web browser, where it can also compose content, such as LinkedIn posts.
Let’s hope it doesn’t go on any racist tirades like Microsoft’s failed Tay chatbot.
What is it? Facebook’s chatbot demo
Despite its struggles to launch an Alexa rival for Messenger, the company formerly known as Facebook hasn’t given up on AI assistants.
Meta has a chatbot called BlenderBot that is available to the public to test out in the US. It’s already collected 70,000 public conversations from the research project to help developers to smooth out any wrinkles — of which there appear to be many.
Like any AI, it’s prone to mistakes as it gathers most of its knowledge from information scraped from the web. Among its numerous reported falsehoods, BlenderBot insisted that Donald Trump was still the US president.
Baidu ERNIE Bot
What is it? The Chinese Google’s answer to ChatGPT
China’s Baidu has joined the global race to develop a popular chatbot.
Called “Wenxin Yiyan” in Chinese and “ERNIE Bot” in English, the AI can provide sophisticated written responses, create articles, essays, jokes and poetry.
It sounds like another ChatGPT rival — although you can expect its answers to be censored in accordance with strict Chinese government regulations.
In case you’re wondering, no, the name isn’t a reference to Sesame Street’s loveable orange muppet, Ernie. It actually stands for “Enhanced Representation Through Knowledge Integration.”