In the biggest mass-market AI launch yet, Google is rolling out Gemini, its family of large language models, across almost all its products, from Android to the iOS Google app to Gmail to Docs and more. You can also now get your hands on Gemini Ultra, the most powerful version of the model, for the first time.
With this launch, Google is sunsetting Bard, the company's answer to ChatGPT. Bard, which has been powered by a version of Gemini since December, will now be known as Gemini too.
ChatGPT, released by Microsoft-backed OpenAI just 14 months ago, changed people’s expectations of what computers could do. Google, which has been racing to catch up ever since, unveiled its Gemini family of models in December. They are multimodal large language models that can interact with you via voice, image, and text. Google claimed that its own benchmarking showed that Gemini could outperform OpenAI's multimodal model, GPT-4, on a range of standard tests. But the margins were slim.
By baking Gemini into its ubiquitous products, Google is hoping to make up lost ground. “Every launch is big, but this one is the biggest yet,” Sissie Hsiao, Google vice president and general manager of Google Assistant and Bard (now Gemini), said in a press conference yesterday. “We think this is one of the most profound ways that we’re going to advance our company’s mission.”
But some will have to wait longer than others to play with Google’s new toys. The company has announced rollouts in the US and East Asia but said nothing about when the Android and iOS apps will come to the UK or the rest of Europe. This may be because the company is waiting for the EU’s new AI Act to be set in stone, says Dragoș Tudorache, a Romanian politician and member of the European Parliament, who was a key negotiator on the law.
“We’re working with local regulators to make sure that we’re abiding by local regime requirements before we can expand,” Hsiao said. “Rest assured, we are absolutely working on it and I hope we’ll be able to announce expansion very, very soon.”
How can you get it? Gemini Pro, Google’s middle-tier model that has been available via Bard since December, will continue to be available for free on the web at gemini.google.com (rather than bard.google.com). But now there is a mobile app as well.
If you have an Android device, you can either download the Gemini app or opt in to an upgrade in Google Assistant. This will let you call up Gemini in the same way that you use Google Assistant: by pressing the power button, swiping from the corner of the screen, or saying “Hey, Google!” iOS users can download the Google app, which will now include Gemini.
Gemini will pop up as an overlay on your screen, where you can ask it questions or give it instructions about whatever’s on your phone at the time, such as summarizing an article or generating a caption for a photo.
Finally, Google is launching a paid-for service called Gemini Advanced. This comes bundled in a subscription costing $19.99 a month that the company is calling the Google One Premium AI Plan. It combines the perks of the existing Google One Premium Plan, such as 2TB of extra storage, with access to Google's most powerful model, Gemini Ultra, for the first time. This will compete with OpenAI’s paid-for service, ChatGPT Plus, which buys you access to the more powerful GPT-4 (rather than the default GPT-3.5) for $20 a month.
At some point soon (Google didn't say exactly when) this subscription will also unlock Gemini across Google’s Workspace apps like Docs, Sheets, and Slides, where it works as a smart assistant similar to the GPT-4-powered Copilot that Microsoft is trialing in Office 365.
When can you get it? The free Gemini app (powered by Gemini Pro) is available from today in English in the US. Starting next week, you’ll be able to access it across the Asia Pacific region in English and in Japanese and Korean. But there is no word on when the app will come to the UK, countries in the EU, or Switzerland.
Gemini Advanced (the paid-for service that gives access to Gemini Ultra) is available in English in more than 150 countries, including the UK and EU (but not France). Google says it is analyzing local requirements and fine-tuning Gemini for cultural nuance in different countries. But the company promises that more languages and regions are coming.
What can you do with it? Google says it has developed its Gemini products with the help of more than 100 testers and power users. At the press conference yesterday, Google execs outlined a handful of use cases, such as getting Gemini to help write a cover letter for a job application. “This can help you come across as more professional and increase your relevance to recruiters,” said Google’s vice president for product management, Kristina Behr.
Or you could take a picture of your flat tire and ask Gemini how to fix it. A more elaborate example involved Gemini managing a snack rota for the parents of kids on a soccer team. Gemini would come up with a schedule for who should bring snacks and when, help you email other parents, and then field their replies. In future versions, Gemini will be able to draw on data in your Google Drive that could help manage carpooling around game schedules, Behr said.
But we should expect people to come up with a lot more uses themselves. “I’m really excited to see how people around the world are going to push the envelope on this AI,” Hsaio said.
Is it safe? Google has been working hard to make sure its products are safe to use. But no amount of testing can anticipate all the ways that tech will get used and misused once it is released. In the last few months, Meta saw people use its image-making app to produce pictures of Mickey Mouse with guns and SpongeBob SquarePants flying a jet into two towers. Others used Microsoft’s image-making software to create fake pornographic images of Taylor Swift.
The AI Act aims to mitigate some—but not all—of these problems. For example, it requires the makers of powerful AI like Gemini to build in safeguards, such as watermarking for generated images and steps to avoid reproducing copyrighted material. Google says that all images generated by its products will include its SynthID watermarks.
Like most companies, Google was knocked onto the back foot when ChatGPT arrived. Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI has given it a boost over its old rival. But with Gemini, Google has come back strong: this is the slickest packaging of this generation’s tech yet.
Correction: we made it clearer that you will need a subscription to access Gemini in Docs and Gmail.
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