Generative AI Clash: OpenAI’s Emotional AI vs. Google’s Enhanced Search

15 May 2024

The fight between OpenAI and Google to win the generative AI arms race has all the intensity of the war between Kendrick Lamar and Drake but without the low-blow trash talk. This week, both companies unleashed a dizzying array of updates that say a lot about their strategies:

OpenAI: A More Human Gen AI

On May 13, OpenAI announced several improvements to ChatGPT including multimodal capabilities.

One feature that has captured the imagination of industry watchers is how ChatGPT is becoming more human. OpenAI demonstrated how the latest iteration of ChatGPT (GPT-4o) can detect emotions in users’ voices, analyze their facial expressions, and adjust its own tone and cadence to match user preferences.

For instance, if you request a bedtime story, it can adopt a gentle, whispering tone. It can respond in a playful, sarcastic manner if you want it to. It even has the capability to sing when asked.

The demonstration immediately drew comparisons to Her, the 2013 movie in which a virtual assistant seduces an introvert… But making OpenAI more human is not in and of itself nothing new. There is a growing trend, especially among Gen Z, to turn to AI for personal companionship. Apps such as Pi offer life coaching in a helpful and conversational manner. Replika is a virtual friend and mental health lifeline. Blush is an AI-generated dating simulator. And there are many, many more examples.

OpenAI knows that humanlike AI is the future, especially with Gen Z. Recently, Npj Mental Health Research studied how college students use Replika. The study observed, “Many used Replika in multiple, overlapping ways—as a friend, a therapist, and an intellectual mirror. Many also held overlapping and often conflicting beliefs about Replika—calling it a machine, an intelligence, and a human. Critically, 3% reported that Replika halted their suicidal ideation.”

The significance of how ChatGPT is evolving is that OpenAI is making an incredibly popular everyday utility more human. There is no turning back now.

At Google’s annual I/O conference on May 14, Google showed that it is leaning into its core strengths with gen AI-powered search. For instance, the AI Overview feature provides a brief, AI-generated answer to searches, along with a series of links to the sources cited in the response. Google is also introducing multistep reasoning (refining search results without requiring multiple searches in the same search session).

Let’s say you are searching for a new yoga or pilates studio that is popular, conveniently located for your daily commute, and also offers a discount for new members. Soon, you will be able to ask Google Search to “find the best yoga or pilates studios in Boston and show details on their intro offers and walking time from Beacon Hill.”

If you are an avid user of Google search for wayfinding, you can appreciate how important and valuable multistep reasoning will be when rolled out.

The company is also introducing updates to its Gemini gen AI chatbot, including the ability to respond to longer prompts, engage in audio-based conversations, and provide more powerful functionality, including a tool summarizing 1,500 pages of the text uploaded by a user.

These are important updates to a tool that I personally find more useful than ChatGPT in many ways. But for Google’s business, it is more critical that the company inject gen AI across its powerful search ecosystem, including Google Search, YouTube, and Email. Search is Google’s bread-and-butter business. And Google is fortifying its moat.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi via Unsplash