Google released limited access to Bard, essentially its own version of ChatGPT, earlier this week. If today were six months ago, it would be more exciting. But compared to what is available today, the chatbot’s abilities are not particularly impressive.
I joined the Bard waitlist and was granted access shortly after, so I tried it out.
Like the basic ChatGPT product, Bard only provides general answers. When prompting the chatbot for a travel itinerary, for example, it gives general ideas of what to do with some references to real places. It is unable to provide details like events or current hotel rates, the same shortcoming as ChatGPT.
When prompted for a three-day trip to London focused on modern art and Indian food, it gave three variations of suggestions for some of the most popular museums and restaurants. That could be helpful to someone early in the planning process who has never been to London, but that’s basically the extent of the capabilities at the moment.
The itineraries tend to include a version of this completely unhelpful disclaimer:
“This itinerary can be customized to fit your interests and budget. For example, if you are interested in art, you could spend more time visiting museums and galleries. If you are interested in food, you could visit more restaurants and try different cuisines. And if you are on a tight budget, you could eat at more affordable restaurants or cook your own meals.”
The chatbot also attempts to give some travel pointers. Some are helpful, and some are obvious:
- Book your flights and accommodation well in advance, especially if you are traveling during peak season.
- Purchase a London Underground pass, which will give you unlimited travel on the London Underground for a set period of time.
- Get a London Pass, which will give you free admission to many of London’s top attractions.
- Pack comfortable shoes, as you will be doing a lot of walking.
- Bring an umbrella, as it can rain even in the summer.
- Be aware of your surroundings and take precautions against pickpockets.
- Enjoy your trip! London is a beautiful and vibrant city with something to offer everyone.
The user can click a “Google it” button at the bottom of the Bard screen. All that does is perform a traditional Google search with a simplified version of the prompt originally submitted to Bard — not a helpful feature at the moment.
Bard has also shown that it doesn’t have the same creative chops as ChatGPT.
Google makes no claim that this is a final product — it states clearly in multiple places that Bard is an experiment. The company is in the stage of gathering user feedback to strengthen the product.
Though it is tempting to compare Bard with the new version of Bing, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison right now because Google has not updated its search engine with the generative AI tech yet. Google said that is coming in the future.
Microsoft has been able to overlay its own platform and data on top of ChatGPT’s underlying tech to create a more useful end product — the new version of Bing. It is the best version of what’s available so far to consumers, and it gives users the best taste of what’s to come with travel planning and booking. The platform includes links to accompany its results, and although they’re often not helpful, that’s the right direction.
While the Bing chatbot also struggles with accuracy regarding details, the links give the user more to work with. Ideally, they would be direct links for booking the specific hotels suggested, but we’ll get there. Bing does provide a link to its travel booking page, where the user can then perform a new search and book from there.
In response to the prompt, “Where can I book a cool hotel room south of Midtown in New York City this weekend for under $300 per night?” Bing recommended Arlo SoHo, stating, “The price for a city king room with one king bed is $199 per night.” It was accompanied with a link to a travel article from 2021 — what’s the point of that?
The actual price for an Arlo SoH room for this Saturday is over $400.
All that being said, Google’s search engine is a big step behind Bing because of the lack of generative AI integration. But Bing is not so far ahead that it’ll be impossible for Google to catch up.
A Question of Monetization
Google has said it is unsure at this point how it will monetize Bard. Google dominates the industry of ad revenue in search, so it will be important that any Google search update does not derail that profitable business.
Microsoft has reportedly started discussing monetization possibilities with ad agencies for the revamped Bing search engine. The report said that Microsoft plans to allow paid links within responses to prompts.
Both companies will undoubtedly insert ads into their updated search engines, but the question is exactly how they’ll fit. If too many advertisements for specific hotels or products are injected into the generative AI results without other non-advertisement options, the user could deem it unreliable.