What is Google Bard? Everything you need to know about ChatGPT rival

Google Bard AI
(Image credit: Google)

With ChatGPT taking the world by storm, it was expected that Google would be working hard on a response — and Bard appears to be its first shot at OpenAI’s chatbot. Google unveiled the new chatbot at a Paris event, which started smoothly but ended with Bard making a mistake that cost Google $100 billion in market value.

For a while, we didn't get much else from Google on its chatbot AI, with testing limited to “trusted testers" and a public release tease for the near future. But on March 21, 2023, Google opened the floodgates and allowed the public to sign up for Google Bard access

Unfortunately, this still forces you to sign up for a waitlist — much like the Bing early access waitlist. But people are starting to get access, including a few of our staff here at Tom's Guide. We are still testing out Bard's features, but there’s already enough out there now that we can still answer some of the biggest questions about Bard AI.

What is Google Bard?

Google Bard is an AI chatbot, similar to ChatGPT and just like ChatGPT, it is powered by a language model to converse with users. Bard uses Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) as its model, which according to Google's Bard FAQ page (opens in new tab) has been fed trillions of words so that it can predict reasonable responses and maintain a conversation.

Google Bard: How does it work?

Much like with other chatbot AIs, Bard is designed to be conversational. That means users interact with it by typing in a query or request into a text box, and then the AI — in this case, Google Bard — will churn out a response using a conversational tone.

For example, if you ask Bard about “what new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope can I tell my 9-year-old about” it will search through the information it has been trained with and return with a response to your questions. In this case, that response will be a couple of discoveries from the JWST that you can tell your child about. But be careful to double-check the information Bard provides. Google used this example in a demo and it got the answer embarrassingly wrong.

Google Bard AI

(Image credit: Google)

However, Google Bard is strictly text-based, unlike ChatGPT when powered by GPT-4 or the new Bing chatbot's Bing Image Generator. It also cannot code, and can only handle U.S. English language inputs and outputs at this time.

What can you do with Google Bard?

Google Bard AI

(Image credit: Google)

At the moment, we don’t know everything that Bard can do. But Google has provided us with a couple of examples: 

  • Plan a friend’s baby shower
  • Compare two Oscar nominated movies
  • Get lunch ideas based on what’s in your fridge

This has Bard missing some of the things that ChatGPT can do— like the ability to write research papers, poems or code for a basic website — though there are a couple of caveats to that statement. First, Google hasn’t said everything Bard can and can't do yet, though it has explicitly stated that Bard cannot code. Second, Bard appears to be focused on being a tool to augment Google Search, so Google may simply not have it currently set up for functions that don’t directly provide better, more contextual search results. However, Bard is still a separate tool from Google Search for now.

Does Google Bard plagiarize content?

As we noted earlier, Bard can definitely make mistakes and did in its initial demo. Further testing has also seen it continue to get things wrong, like below when we asked it about the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Google Bard being tested

(Image credit: Future)

At first glance, this example seems fine. But upon closer look, it gets some important things wrong. 

First, it states that our testing produced a 12-hour and 40-minute battery life figure. Which it did not — that number came from MacWorld's testing. 

Bard also incorrectly lists Phone Arena's testing as producing a 13-hour and 39-minute battery life expectancy. If that figure looks at all familiar to you, that's because our testing produced that number — not Phone Arena's.

One other thing you may have noticed is that Google Bard falls a bit short in providing sources for the information it pulls. While it does cite Tom's Guide and Phone Arena (albeit incorrectly), there are no links provided for those sources. That is a stark contrast from the new Bing chatbot powered by GPT-4, which still gets things wrong but at least gives you the links from which it's (theoretically sourcing information).

This is a problem with plenty of chatbot AI, and not just Bard. ChatGPT will not provide citations unless properly asked — which you can learn how to do in our guide to getting the most out of ChatGPT. However, we aren't the only ones that found issues with Bard's plagiarism. In their testing, our sister site Tom's Hardware found that Google Bard plagiarized content from their own testing, claiming that it was Google's own. When Tom's Hardware Editor-in-Chief Avram Piltch confronted Bard with the allegation of thievery, the chatbot apologized, but only because it had been caught.

The moral of the story? Be careful when using chatbot AI to do research. Intellectual property theft is no joke.

Google Bard: How to use It

A picture of Google Bard running on a smartphone

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In order to use Bard you'll want to sign up at bard.google.com and enter your Gmail address. You'll be notified once you can access Bard. Once you've been granted access you can visit bard.google.com once again and try the chatbot. For step-by-step instructions see our How to use Google Bard guide. 

Google Bard: Who can use it?

Google logo on building

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Originally, only “trusted testers” were able to use Bard AI. But Google has now opened up a Google Bard waitlist that you can join to try and get access. There is no ETA for when waitlist members will get access, but people were already getting access one day one, including members of our staff.

One note: you cannot sign up with a work email tied to Google Workspace. You need to use a personal Gmail account. But as long as you do that, signing up for the waitlist should be painless.

Is Google Bard free?

At the moment it appears that Bard will be free for now. It would be surprising for Google to charge for the consumer-facing version (i.e. a version intended for everyday users) of Bard given that it doesn’t charge for Google Search, but given ChatGPT Plus exists as a subscription service from OpenAI-backed Microsoft, anything is possible. 

Google Bard vs ChatGPT: What’s different?

ChatGPT and Google Search

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

While originally the battle between ChatGPT versus Google Bard was shaping up to be a face-off between two similar AI chatbots, things have changed in recent weeks. While ChatGPT's free research preview is still relatively similar to Bard in some aspects, it has some features such as the ability to code that Bard notably lacks. However, Bard does have the advantage of being trained with a more relevant data set, as the GPT-3 and 3.5 models stopped being trained in 2021.

Unfortunately for Bard, the same cannot be said for the new Bing and ChatGPT Plus, which are both powered by GPT-4. The data in GPT-4 is relatively up to date, and GPT-4 can not only handle text in multiple languages but can handle multimodal functionality as well. 

This means that they can handle inputs and/or outputs in more than one form — though ChatGPT Plus and Bing's chatbot handle it in different ways. For ChatGPT Plus and developers using the ChatGPT API, this functionality allows the AI to take image inputs and contextualize them into text outputs (e.g. the ability to describe what is funny about an image). Meanwhile, the Bing chatbot can generate images based on text inputs, though it does this by integrating the Bing Image Generator into the Bing chatbot rather than the Bing AI handling it as a native function.

Google Bard vs other Google AI projects

Google has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Anthropic, an AI startup similar to Microsoft-backed OpenAI. Here is Google’s current statement on how its AI projects tie into one another, including its Anthropic investment: 

“Beyond our own products, we think it’s important to make it easy, safe and scalable for others to benefit from these advances by building on top of our best models. Next month, we’ll start onboarding individual developers, creators and enterprises so they can try our Generative Language API, initially powered by LaMDA with a range of models to follow. Over time, we intend to create a suite of tools and APIs that will make it easy for others to build more innovative applications with AI. Having the necessary compute power to build reliable and trustworthy AI systems is also crucial to startups, and we are excited to help scale these efforts through our Google Cloud partnerships with Cohere, C3.ai and Anthropic, which was just announced last week. Stay tuned for more developer details soon.”

Aside from Anthropic and Bard, Google does have some additional prongs in its AI strategy. At the February 8 AI event where Bard was unveiled, Google also announced AI tools being integrated in Google Maps. It also has announced huge generative AI upgrades for Docs and Gmail that are similar to some of the features Microsoft recently unveiled in 365 Copilot and unveiled a 1,000 language translation AI to go along with a preexisting music creation AI called MusicLM.

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Malcolm McMillan
A/V, AI and VR Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, writing about the latest in tech, gaming and entertainment with a particular focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and AI-based tools like ChatGPT. He has written up much of our coverage on the latest AI tools including ChatGPT, the new GPT-powered Bing and Google Bard. He also covers A/V tech such as televisions, soundbars and more, in addition to covering VR headsets from the Meta Quest 3 to the PS VR2.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.