Whether it is botched and haphazard layoffs, anti-trust regulators baying for its blood, or opportunistic saber-rattling by long-time rival Microsoft and its outsourced AI unit, OpenAI — 2023 has been a rough year for one of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. Google, the company with $200 billion in revenues, suddenly seems to be under siege. 

And if that wasn’t enough, the company had an embarrassing hiccup when showing off Bard, its ChatGPT rival. That led to about a 7.7 percent decline in its share value — about $100 billion in market capitalization wiped out. The error showed that Google has some work to do on the AI front. Ironically, the ChatGPT’s answers threw up similar ones, but not on stage with the world’s media watching. 

I am just gobsmacked that Google executives didn’t catch the errors beforehand, which showed that the Bard presentation and the launch had been stitched together in haste. These “hallucinations” often occur in AI systems and should have been caught. Given what had been riding on this demo, Google should have given a blemish-free demo. 

Unlike Google, Microsoft’s Bing demo was more polished and free of blemishes. It doesn’t matter now as it echoes the harsh reality: Google is panicking and making decisions on its heels. “I hope with our innovation they will definitely want to come out and show that they can dance. I want people to know that we made them dance,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella boasted.

Google is dancing, for sure — after sleepwalking for a long time. The company that seems to be in a reactive mode — OpenAI and its relationship with Microsoft, InstructGPT, and ChatGPT have been hovering in the background for the past six to nine months. And yet, Google seems to have dragged its feet. The botched demo and lack of action around AI are symptoms of a bigger disease — a company entrapped in its past, inaction, and missed opportunities.

At any other company, investors would ask for the CEO’s head, and Google isn’t any other company — the founders anointed Sundar Pichai as the leader of Alphabet/Google. On his watch, the company has become a giant — albeit one trapped in its 10-blue-link prison. Sundar is a risk averse leader!

Stuck@Om New Episode: Future of Search: A candid conversation with Sridhar Ramaswamy, ex-Googler fighting his former employer with a new approach to search! We talk about ChatGPT and Google’s 10-blue-link prison. ( Listen on Overcast Download on Apple. Listen on Spotify)

If ChatGPT and its brethren represent a significant shift in how we interact with digital information, then it means clear and present danger for Google’s revenue stream. Can the company afford to put that revenue stream at risk? Can it afford to be timid? Google has to quickly decide whether to be “Sniff and Scurry” or happy being “Hem and Haw.”

Either way, Google’s board, including the founders, must ask: is Pichai the right guy to run the company, or is it time for Sundar to go? Does the company need a more offense minded CEO? Someone who is not satisfied with status quo, and willing to break some eggs?

PS: I asked the question on Twitter earlier today:

Given the state of the company and all the challenges, does Alphabet (Google) need a new CEO? #Google

— OM (@om) February 8, 2023

February 8, 2023. San Francisco

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