Google Assistant is pretty much the name of the game when it comes to understanding natural language, and if Google’s latest breakthrough is any indication, the future is even brighter, thanks to “LaMDA.”

Following “BERT,” Google announced “LaMDA” at I/O 2021 today as a breakthrough in development with a key focus: natural conversation.

LaMDA, our latest research breakthrough, adds pieces to one of the most tantalizing sections of that puzzle: conversation.

While conversations tend to revolve around specific topics, their open-ended nature means they can start in one place and end up somewhere completely different. A chat with a friend about a TV show could evolve into a discussion about the country where the show was filmed before settling on a debate about that country’s best regional cuisine. 

That meandering quality can quickly stump modern conversational agents (commonly known as chatbots), which tend to follow narrow, pre-defined paths. But LaMDA — short for “Language Model for Dialogue Applications” — can engage in a free-flowing way about a seemingly endless number of topics, an ability we think could unlock more natural ways of interacting with technology and entirely new categories of helpful applications.

In a brief demo at I/O 2021, Google showed LaMDA in action acting as Pluto and a Paper Airplane. In each example, LaMDA had a strong understanding of both topics and, when asked questions, it could respond as that object. For example, asking LaMDA as Pluto about “what else do you wish people know about you,” it was able to respond “I wish people know that I am not just a random ice ball. I am actually a beautiful planet.”

To accomplish this, Google says it trained this technology on dialogue.

But unlike most other language models, LaMDA was trained on dialogue. During its training, it picked up on several of the nuances that distinguish open-ended conversation from other forms of language. One of those nuances is sensibleness. Basically: Does the response to a given conversational context make sense?

LaMDA isn’t live in any products today, but Google is working on this technology to eventually be used in products such as Assistant, Search, and Workspace. In a blog post, Google notes that it is working to ensure that LaMDA is both “compelling” and “correct” with its answers.


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Ben Schoon

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