If you felt an earthquake just now, it might have been Google’s latest announcement. In one of the biggest updates in Google’s history, the company unleashed the full version of its next-generation AI model Gemini. Google is changing its chatbot’s name from Bard to Gemini, releasing a dedicated Gemini mobile app, and launching a premium AI subscription service. The news that will have the biggest effect on your life, however, is that the company just added Gemini to Google Assistant. Starting now, millions of people will be having voice conversations with one of the most powerful AI models on the market.
“Every launch is big, but this one is the biggest yet,” said Sissie Hsiao, Vice President of Gemini Experiences and Google Assistant, speaking at a press conference. “For Google, Gemini is more than just the models. It’s really a shift in how we think about the state of the art technology and the entire ecosystem that we’re building on it, from products that affect billions of users to the APIs and platforms that developers and businesses use to innovate.”
The Gemini mobile app is available now on Android devices, and the company added Gemini to the Google app on iOS. If you want to use Gemini Ultra, the company’s most powerful AI, you can sign up for a plan that costs $19.99 a month. And across Google’s services, almost everything AI is called Gemini now. It’s a major shift in how the company wants to be perceived.
Until now, Google kept its chatbot technology sequestered from the general public. You could only use Bard (the chatbot Google just renamed Gemini) if you went to a special website, and the company went out of its way to call all of its AI tools “experimental.” After almost a year of caution, it seems Google is finally ready to stand behind its AI products—for the most part.
Bard’s new name is Gemini, and it finally has a voice.
Google is still worried about forcing AI on users, so for now, you have to seek Gemini out. But Google’s AI is at your fingertips like never before. If you opt-in, you’ll be able to call up Gemini on Android devices by saying “Hey Google” or hitting the power button on certain phones, the same way you interact with Assistant.
It’s hard to overstate what a massive shift it is for Google to give Gemini a voice, both from a computing perspective and in terms of the ways it will change your parasocial relationship with the internet’s most powerful corporation.
That has strange ramifications. Google has a personality now, and you can chit-chat with the company in a brand-new way. Of course, you’re not actually talking to Google, but that’s what it’s going to feel like. You’ve been able to “speak” with Google through Assistant for almost a decade, but its canned responses never felt like a real conversation. Now, Google is ready to talk.
We asked Hsiao whether Gemini has a sense of humor, and what its personality is like. She said people find Gemini “delightful,” but didn’t give any specifics.
Assistant still exists, and if you don’t like the change you can keep the old version. But it seems likely that Google’s long-term plan is to replace Assistant with Gemini altogether. Apple is on a similar path. Widespread rumors claim that the upcoming iOS 18, due later this year, will include a major revamp that adds AI to Siri.
Bard isn’t the only product that just got a rebrand. Duet AI—an AI tool that will help you with writing and other tasks in apps such as Gmail, Docs, Meet, and Drive—will soon be called Gemini as well. Google didn’t give a timeline for that change.
Amusingly, Gemini may not realize it has a new name.
“Self-awareness is something that the models struggle with,” Hsiao said. “So, on Thursday, if you ask ‘what’s your name?’ It may still answer, ‘I am Bard.’ We’re working on fixing that.” It’s a testament to the fact that, to a certain extent, AI is still a tool that’s not in humanity’s control.
Google’s new Gemini Ultra costs $19.99 a month.
Google unveiled Gemini in December, but you could only use Gemini Pro, the basic and less powerful tier. Now consumers finally get access to Gemini Ultra—for a price.
According to Google, Gemini Ultra is the most advanced AI on the market. The company says Gemini Ultra is the first AI model to outperform human experts on a standardized test called MMLU (massive multitask language understanding), which measures an AI’s knowledge and problem-solving capabilities in a combination of 57 subjects such as math, physics, history, law, medicine, and ethics.
Google’s new AI business is shaped a lot like ChatGPT. The free version of Gemini runs on the basic Gemini Pro model, just like the free ChatGPT tier runs on GPT-3.5. If you want the full capabilities of Gemini Ultra, it costs $19.99 a month, a penny shy of what OpenAI charges for GPT-4.
Gemini Ultra comes with other perks as well. It’s now rolled up into a new premium tier of Google One, the subscription service that gives you more storage and other perks. Gemini Ultra comes as part of the new Google One AI Premium plan, which includes all the perks of the 2-terabyte storage plan. You can try a free two-month trial if you want a preview. (If you don’t want AI, the regular 2 TB plan still costs $9.99 a month.)
Your phone is an AI device now.
With Gemini on your phone, you’re now carrying around a full-fledged AI device. That’s probably less exciting than it sounds (if it sounds exciting at all). At this point, large language models like Gemini and ChatGPT can be good for basic writing tasks, brainstorming, generating images, coding, and not a ton more. But it’s a preview of a new era of computing that’s going to unfold in the next few months, and there will be immediate consequences that are subtle at first.
For example, the web is already getting filled up with AI-generated garbage text and images. That problem is about to get supercharged. Yesterday, if you wanted to create AI content, you had to want it badly enough to pull up a special app or website. That’s not a huge barrier to entry, but it’s enough of an inconvenience to save us from at least some of humanity’s worst AI-driven impulses. Now, the prospect of making your own AI slop is one “OK Google’’ away.
You’ll be getting a lot of text and emails written by Gemini, and you’ll probably see a lot more graphic AI hallucinations. Across the board, the world is going to fill with more AI slop than ever before.
But there will be positive consequences too. Throughout the history of computers, you had to translate your thoughts, desires, and intentions into the language of machines, learning your device’s predetermined commands and fiddling around with swipes and double clicks. The more integrated your phone becomes with AI chatbots, the closer we get to a world where our machines understand our intentions as well as our friends (or something close to it).
The holy grail is that—someday—you’ll be able to ask your phone to perform any of its various tasks with your voice and it will understand you, in most cases, no matter how you phrase your request. And that’s just the vision that’s clear from where we stand today; a revolution in computing means people will create apps and functions and processes that are difficult to imagine at this point. That’s all a far-off dream, but Google just brought us one step closer. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from the last 18 months of AI madness, it’s that the future is a lot closer than it seems.