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. A new subscription plan will also give users access to Gemini Ultra, the most powerful version of the model, for the first time.
Google is also sunsetting Bard, its ChatGPT rival. 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 has been racing to catch up ever since and 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 Gemini outperforming GPT-4 on a range of standard tests. But the margins were slim.
By baking Gemini into its ubiquitous tools, Google is hoping to make up lost ground and even overtake its rival.
“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 tools. The company has announced roll outs in the US and East Asia, but said nothing about when the Android and iOS apps will come to the UK, EU and Switzerland. 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 AI Act.
“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 (instead of 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!”
This brings up a Gemini 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.
Gemini is also now built into 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.
Finally, Google is launching a new subscription service called Gemini Advanced that extends its existing Google One Premium Plan (which gives users extra storage and a few other perks). For $19.99 a month, the new Google One Premium AI Plan will give you access to Google’s most powerful model, Gemini Ultra, for the first time, as well as all the plan’s usual perks. This is very similar to OpenAI’s offering, where for $20 a month ChatGPT Plus buys you access to GPT-4 rather than GPT-3.5.
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 it claims 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 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 the rota for who brought 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 users to find a lot more uses for these tools. “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 slick 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—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.