Google Bard has one enormous advantage over other AI chatbots

Google YouTube talking to one another AIImage: Microsoft Bing Image Creator

Much has been made of AI chatbots’ ability to summarize PDF files or long Web pages. But there’s a gigantic time-saver that Google’s Bard is beginning to deploy, and it’s worth checking out: Knowledge of the gazillion hours of YouTube video it’s already archived.

On November 21, Google took “the first steps in Bard’s ability to understand YouTube videos,” according to the list of Bard updates that Google publishes. Coming as it did the week of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the improvement didn’t generate much notice. But after playing around with it, I have to say that there’s an enormous amount of hidden potential.

Take YouTube in general. If you’re like me, you may listen to it as a podcast, or if you’re looking for specific instructions on how to complete a task. (My wife just used it to learn how to change a headlamp bulb in her vehicle, and she was immensely proud of her accomplishment as well as the money it saved us.)

But YouTube takes time — a lot of it, especially if you’re wading through hours-long podcasts to find an opinion or a factoid, or just the piece of advice you’re looking for. You can imagine, for example, how much information was communicated over radio during the last fifty years.

It’s this sort of deep learning that chatbots have started to lean more heavily upon. The first iterations of ChatGPT didn’t even offer up-to-date knowledge. Now they do, generally, especially with Microsoft’s Copilot and Google’s Bard. ChatGPT began adding plugins in March, but it requires users to pay $20 per month for ChatGPT Plus. Bard doesn’t — it’s all free.

That means Google can tap into its existing services: Google Flights, Hotels, and Maps, plus personalized information stored in Google Workspace. You have the option to turn these on and off via the Bard extensions page. But it’s YouTube’s Bard extension that holds the most promise.

Why use it? Two key reasons. First, Bard can summarize a YouTube video in much the same way that it can summarize a Web page or long PDF. That is incredibly handy: Let’s say that you were interested in the topic of how building a PC differs around the world. You might listen to the first few minutes to get a sense for whether it’s worth your time. But Google does it the right way: it summarizes the video, and embeds it, so that you can dive deeper if you want.

Consider this example:

Mark Hachman / IDG

Here, we see how Bard sums up some of the detail Gordon and Pedro get into, without giving the entire game away. Video, for example, thrives when it shows an engaging conversation between two people, and a summary can never eliminate that. What it does do, however, is help you decide whether you want to invest (in this case) ten minutes of your life into diving deeper.

Google’s AI search made a lot of people queasy because it sucks up the traditional list of links into a textual summary and links. Ask it a question, and it will try to answer it. This feels different, and much more fair to the content creator. Is it because Google gets paid if you actually watch the video, rather than going to a third-party web site? Very possibly.

Even in a short video where Bard does a nice job of summing up the points, you still benefit from watching the video itself:

Mark Hachman / IDG

Where Bard doesn’t do a great job is on longer videos — such as a traditional podcast, where various points of view and topics can be debated over a long period of time. Speakers ramble, get distracted, and segue into meaningless sidetracks — all potentially entertaining, but not always of interest to either Bard or you.

Of course, you can ask Bard to collate opinions, too, its second impressive feat. I’m not as impressed here with this search, given the sometimes totally irrelevant content that Bard can highlight. Bard does a nice job in finding (admittedly, just) one video that shows how Gordon thinks about the Apple Mac. But in the search (not shown in the image below) Google also shows a collection of shorts that include cancer being found in chickens and some other random videos. None are relevant.

Mark Hachman / IDG

One big question: can other chatbots like ChatGPT and Microsoft follow suit and deeply index YouTube’s video? I don’t know. They certainly don’t (can’t?) at present. If you ask Bing/Copilot to summarize a video, it refuses, even though Microsoft alluded to deeper search capabilities arriving in Copilot.

“I’m sorry, but I am not able to summarize the video for you,” Copilot replies, when asked to summarize a video. “However, there are some online tools that can help you with that.”

Google’s summaries aren’t perfect. As Google says, though, these are “first steps.” I’m not totally sure that Google could ever quite catch up and index the amount of content that users create daily, but Bard’s ability to make sense of it all is a noticeable improvement –and one that other chatbots simply don’t offer yet.

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

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