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Google Opens Early Access To Bard AI, Prompts Small Bump In Stock Price

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Key takeaways

  • Google’s generative AI chatbot, Bard, is now open to US and UK users as the AI wars move at breakneck speed
  • The Big Tech giant, keen to avoid another AI-related stock price fall, stressed a ‘slowly, slowly’ approach
  • Alphabet’s stock price rose over 3% at the news despite users branding the chatbot as dull compared to Bing and ChatGPT

We have good news for those eagerly awaiting Google’s bite of the AI cherry: Google Bard is now available to US and UK citizens in an open beta. Intended as a rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing Chat, the generative AI model is Google’s stake in the ground for the AI wars.

Google’s had a rocky AI journey after being caught out by the runaway success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot, launched in November last year. So far we’ve seen an internal ‘code red’ memo, a lackluster launch and promises of generative AI tools without any firm deadlines.

This all begs the question: is Google really prepared to be a leader in this field? It may be a forefather of today’s AI technology, but it’s not at the front of the pack in exciting users and Wall Street. Let’s get into the details.

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What’s the latest with Google Bard?

Google has launched its Bard beta in the US and UK and will expand to new countries and languages soon. Based on a lightweight version of Google’s LaMDA, the generative AI model is intended to complement Google’s search function with a ‘Google it’ button as part of the program.

A unique factor of the Bard product is its ability to generate several ‘draft’ answers to questions or tasks that users can choose from. ChatGPT, in comparison, just provides one answer.

Google now says it’s time for external users testing the product to give feedback and improve the model. “I’m excited to see how Bard sparks more creativity and curiosity in the people who use it,” CEO Sundar Pichai said in an internal memo.

While Google is initially rolling out Bard to 10,000 “trusted testers from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives,” the average Joe can now sign up for the waitlist. It’s already had 80,000 internal testers use the Bard model to keep up with OpenAI and Microsoft in the AI wars.

Google Bard’s launch comes off the back of its announcement that generative AI will be coming to its suite of apps including Google Docs, Sheets and Chat to make working life more productive. There wasn’t a release date mentioned, but Alphabet stock still rose 3.14% at the news.

Wall Street’s reaction

There was a muted reaction from testing users, with some labeling the Bard chatbot as bland compared to other chatbots. That’s likely by design to avoid the unhinged conversations Microsoft’s Bing chatbot had with some users.

Investors seemed to like dull, too. Google stock rose 3.1% on Tuesday following the Bard waitlist announcement. The small gain is an endorsement from investors that Google is on the right track in the AI war.

Google’s AI strategy: in control or panicking?

There’s an interesting underlying message with everything Google says in the beta launch: it repeatedly stresses that the product isn’t perfect. “While LLMs are an exciting technology, they’re not without their faults,” the announcement blog post reads.

Pichai also mentioned in his memo, “As more people start to use Bard and test its capabilities, they’ll surprise us. Things will go wrong.”

Google can’t be blamed for this move: a mistake in the product demo during Bard’s launch caused consternation from investors, wiping off $100bn from the stock. Despite the Bing chatbot having similar issues, the hefty error put Microsoft’s launch head and shoulders above Google.

Every Big Tech company putting their hat into the AI ring has reputation loss at stake. But Google has further to fall: it dominates around 90% of all global search engine traffic.

Strong leadership is needed to weather the storm, but rumors are now swirling around Pichai’s tenure coming to a premature end over the blunders made so far. With founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin returning to the helm at the start of the year, perhaps there’s fire to the smoke.

Our consensus: Google is trying to claw back lost face, but all signs point to the tech titan still running around like a headless chicken. Investors are likely watching Google’s every move in this field closely to spot any headwinds of the tech world order changing.

The broader AI landscape

AI developments have dominated the headlines as Big Tech races to beat the competition, with a dizzying amount of new features and programs announced by global tech companies.

Adobe broke the news this week at its Adobe Summit that its new generative AI image suite, Adobe Firefly, will be coming to its apps like Photoshop and Illustrator soon – and the waitlist to try it out is already open.

Adobe is partnering with chip manufacturer Nvidia, who’s also moving into the AI sphere with its Picasso model. Adobe stock rose 3.1% after the announcement.

In China, Baidu launched its Ernie chatbot last week after CEO Robin Li bluntly stated they were unveiling the tool early because the market was moving ahead. Baidu stock dipped as much as 10% after the pre-recorded demo failed to impress but rallied up 14.3% the following day once news of 30,000 Chinese companies signing up for the service emerged.

Not to mention OpenAI launched GPT-4, a new and improved version of ChatGPT, soon after Google just announced its Bard model was coming. Microsoft’s stock price has risen 14% since the start of 2023 when it announced its $10bn investment in OpenAI.

The bottom line

Google must feel like it’s walking along a tightrope right now. It has to keep moving because its search engine dominance is at stake, but one wrong step and the stock will be sent into freefall.

Wall Street has high expectations, too. That’s why the stock gains haven’t been significant: while it’s running a few weeks behind Microsoft and OpenAI, as the incumbent search engine crown-holder and with so much AI experience under its belt, Google’s chatbot offering could be the greatest yet.

One thing’s for sure: the AI wars are heating up, with investment opportunities ripe for the taking.

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“I wore the Dyson Zone headphones on a long flight” By Kate Kozuch for Tom’s Guide

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(Image credit: Future)

One of the first things I did with Dyson Zone noise-cancelling and air-purifying headphones was pack them for a 6-hour flight from New York to California. And while I was initially excited to travel with the futuristic device, the experience wasn’t as user-friendly as I hoped.

The $949 Dyson Zone are headphones with air purification technology in the ear cups. The cups push filtered air through a magnetic visor that many have compared to the mask worn by DC super villain Bane. But concerns about looking nefarious aside, I thought that current fed to my nose and mouth through the Dyson Zone would be a major improvement to stale airplane air.

I knew that the headset wouldn’t protect me from any airborne viruses lurking among my fellow passengers. In fact, airplane air is filtered through sophisticated HEPA systems, while the Dyson Zone is only rated to filter certain pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide. In other words, there was little the Zone would offer in terms of improving the air I breathed. Instead, I hoped a constant, cool airflow could ease some of my flying anxiety. Bonus points if it fended off unsavory odors.

It’s a bulky product

When it came to packing the Dyson Zone, I had to leave behind the included purse-like carrying case. I opted for the soft drawstring bag in order to fit the headphones and visor into my backpack along with all my other tech and flight snacks.

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But in the confines of the coach section, getting the Dyson Zone system out of my bag proved a struggle. Not only is the device a hefty 1.47 pounds with the visor, but the visor doesn’t stay attached if the headset gets bumped around. Juggling my iPad, water bottle and neck pillow, the Dyson Zone certainly didn’t grant me grace.

People didn’t stare

Once I had the Dyson Zone set up for use, I sat watching passengers fill into their seats, waiting for someone to notice the contraption on my face. No one did, or at least, I didn’t catch anyone giving a curious glimpse.

I’ll admit, I didn’t really care about whether people stared. But it surprised me that people didn’t seem interested in what I was wearing. Don’t they know the Dyson Zone could be a glimpse at the type of thing everyone uses in the future? At least I could settle in for the long flight knowing everyone around me would be minding their own business.

Battery life became a problem

About two hours into my flight, a status chime in the headphones indicated a low battery life (you can also check the battery status of the headphones on your iPhone, too). My options were to a) detach the visor and enjoy a bit more time with audio only or b) spend the rest of the flight tethered to a charging cable.

My options were to a) detach the visor and enjoy a bit more time with audio only or b) spend the rest of the flight tethered to a charging cable.

As I had been enjoying the filtered air, I opted for the latter. Luckily, I could reach the outlet between the seats. But the receptacle must’ve been a bit loose, because not long later, I heard the low battery life chime in my ears again. I eventually wiggled the charger at an angle that offered consistent charging through the flight. Still, not all airplanes provide outlet access, so I could’ve had a problem. I didn’t have room to pack my Sony WH-1000XM5s as a back up, after all.

Would I wear the Dyson Zone on a flight again?

Between the bulk and battery life struggle, the Dyson Zone probably won’t be coming with me on any more flights. As much as I enjoyed the cool airflow and the sound quality sufficed for binging reality TV, they’re impractical for air travel.

Unless I had more room at my seat (or perhaps a hook to hang the headset on) and guaranteed outlet access, the Dyson Zone isn’t worth the hassle. Plus, an airplane isn’t the ideal environment to benefit from the headset’s filtering features. Instead, I’ll stick to my non-air-purifying headphones for my next trip, and give Dyson Zone a go outside in the busy city.

More from Tom’s Guide

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom’s Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.

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System Shock remake review: The PC classic comes back to life

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: You wake up in a futuristic medical bay on an orbital space station with some new cyber implants, only to realize that everyone else is dead. I could be talking about BioShock or Dead Space or even, if you squint, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But in this case, I’m talking about System Shock, which has been remade by Nightdive Studios. This new version reveals how much video games as a whole owe to the 1994 classic.

Before I was deeply entrenched in the world of video games as a critic and a journalist, I knew about System Shock, but it wasn’t possible for me to play it. Originally developed by Looking Glass Studios, it was a moderate hit at the time, but not explosively popular like its contemporary Doom. Over time its legacy has grown, explicitly influencing games like the aforementioned BioShock and Dead Space, but also Dishonored, Prey, and Deathloop. It also popularized some narrative techniques that now feel tired, like the general practice of telling your story through audio logs.

I had always wanted to play System Shock, to trace the lines of video game history, but as an older, PC-only game, it was hard to get my hands on. Too long had passed between the game’s release and the present day for System Shock to be accessible, not just in the sense that I was accustomed to more modern games with better UI and more intuitive controls, but also in the sense that it was not available to purchase anywhere. For a large part of my youth, System Shock, a game so old it was originally released on floppy disc, was distributed by fans via downloads of dubious legality. When I first looked up the game, having heard it was a huge influence on pretty much every game that came in its wake, I instead found people on forums telling other readers to just go straight to System Shock 2.

 

 

 

 

Image: Nightdive Studios/Prime Matter

 

You can now play the original System Shock, also thanks to Nightdive. The studio acquired the rights to the game in 2012 and re-released it as the Enhanced Edition in 2015. And you could go and play this remastered edition right now and enjoy it for its many pleasures, even if they don’t hit quite the same way 29 years on. The then-revolutionary physics engine, originally programmed by Seamus Blackley for Flight Unlimited, can’t leave the same impression on players in 2023 as it did in 1994; we have all seen too many physics engines that cribbed Blackley’s work in the meantime. If you don’t think you can play a game from 1994, then the System Shock remake does quite nicely. Sometimes, it even does something remarkable and original: It makes you truly understand the passage of time.

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The System Shock remake is beautiful. It’s not a fully reimagined game like the Final Fantasy 7 remake, nor does it wholly abandon the aesthetics and art style of the original like the remake of Shadow of the Colossus. But it looks like the way games from 1994 appear in my memory. Smoke spouts from vents and dissipates into pixels. The lighting is often dramatic, your screen saturated in deep red with bright blue sparks emitting from the light fixtures. In your hands, your lead pipe hangs heavy in front of your face, swinging directly in front of your field of vision, sometimes slightly pixelated in the light. You walk slowly — oh so slowly — down narrow hallways with flickering lighting, trapped in metal maintenance corridors as you try to make your way through the map. It’s a dungeon-crawler wearing a shooter’s skin.

Famously, System Shock is the story of the Hacker, who was caught hacking into the TriOptimum Corporation. You’re whisked away to its orbital space station, called the Citadel, and given a job: join the corporation and get a fancy neural implant in exchange for removing the ethics protocols of their AI, SHODAN. SHODAN, it turns out, really needed those ethics protocols, and when you wake up after surgery, she has murdered everyone in the station and turned them into mutants and cyborgs.

 

The player fires a purple laser beam at an approaching robot on treads in the System Shock remake

 

 

 

Image: Nightdive Studios/Prime Matter

 

If you are a fan of video games, you’ve met SHODAN before, in some shape or form. If you’ve played Portal, you’ve interacted with a very close relative of hers. The character archetype SHODAN would create, of a female AI that’s lost its morals with an acerbic, glitchy voice, is now a cliche. GLaDOS is just SHODAN with a sense of humor and a sense of personal animosity toward the player. In System Shock, SHODAN’s hate is cold and pure, the way you hate insects when they get inside the house; they’re below you, and not supposed to be here. As you make your way through the levels, she promises that she’ll strap you to a torture chair and that “you’ll learn more about pain than you ever wanted to know.”

SHODAN’s presence still feels new, somehow — or maybe, everything old just becomes new again. What does feel incredible is the way the flourishes of the remake highlight System Shock’s lineage even more. When you charge your electric weapons in the charging stations, electricity dances on your fingers, and I remember how BioShock descended from this game. When System Shock leans on its horror elements, thrusting you into a dark room with a groaning monster, I remember why I hadn’t played Dead Space; System Shock is more my speed of creepy, but I can see how one became the next. Playing this game in this form helps me bring it into conversation with the entirety of the immersive sim genre, a loose collection of games that offer players open-ended gameplay. You can see the line from the Citadel all the way to the shores of Dunwall in Dishonored; the way Looking Glass, and now Nightdive, offers the Citadel to you not just as a space station but a puzzle, a map for you to unfold with little to no instructions on how to proceed. Seeing this done so expertly on a smaller scale makes me think of a kind of open world that hasn’t been technologically possible until quite recently: Skyrim, Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring.

 

A lobby-esque room on the space station the System Shock remake, replete with marbled-granite pillars and art deco trappings

 

 

 

Image: Nightdive Studios/Prime Matter

 

What really excites me when I play System Shock is how little it holds my hand. You can — and probably will — eat absolute shit the first time you try to make your way through the medical bay. You can get yourself into unsolvable situations — it’s a game that asks you to pay attention, that doesn’t always signpost the next thing to do. It also rewards your curiosity as much as it does your caution. I often found my way through levels mostly by accident, by deciding to turn down hallways I hadn’t gone down before. There’s always a discovery — a new weapon or a vending machine or a shortcut — or at least a useful lesson lying in wait. It’s easy to understand why people played this game and then became obsessed with it, why you can trace some people’s careers through the game. Ken Levine, who worked at Looking Glass when it making System Shock, certainly never stopped trying to make System Shock, eventually giving BioShock: Infinite an ending that suggests there are thousands upon thousands of variations on this theme.

System Shock will be released on May 30 on Windows PC. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Prime Matter. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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Sony’s Huge Days of Play Sale on PS Plus Subs, PS5 Games, Accessories, Begins This Week

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Image: Push Square

As has become an annual tradition, Sony has announced that its Days of Play promotion will return this year. It kicks off on the 2nd June — lasting one week — and will see prices slashed all across PlayStation, from games and PS Plus subscriptions to console accessories and merchandise.

The PS Plus discounts are usually a Days of Play highlight. This time around, Sony is taking 25 per cent off all 12-month subscription plans, so this is typically a good opportunity to renew or extend your membership. What’s more, existing subscribers can get 25 per cent off when upgrading to a higher tier, like PS Plus Extra or Premium.

Meanwhile, prices will be getting chopped over on direct.playstation.com — the brand’s official online store. That means we can expect deals on all sorts of physical goods, like console accessories, and boxed games. It’s a similar story with the PlayStation Gear Store, which stocks PlayStation-based merchandise.

And of course, no PlayStation promotion is complete without some exclusive PlayStation Store discounts. We don’t know which games will be getting discounted at the time of writing this article, but all will become clear when Days of Play begins later this week.

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Think you’ll be spending any money over Days of Play? Start counting those pennies in the comments section below.

 

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