Google Inc. has launched its AI chatbot in Canada after a delay tied to the company’s standoff with Ottawa over online news.
On Thursday the search giant expanded the rollout of Gemini, formerly known as Bard, to Canada after excluding Canadian users from its chatbot’s “biggest expansion” – to more than 230 countries, in more than 40 languages – in July. Canadians can now access Gemini in both English and Québécois French.
“Our team in Canada was still working to find a constructive resolution on Bill C-18,” Jack Krawczyk, the product lead for Gemini experiences at Google, told The Globe and Mail.
In November, the federal government and Google reached an agreement over the Online News Act – previously known as Bill C-18 – after months of tense negotiations, including Google’s threat to block Canadians’ ability to search for news on its platform. The tech giant agreed to pay $100-million a year to Canadian news organizations.
“Fortunately, the Government of Canada has committed to addressing our core issues with the bill … that really helped us clear a path to launch Gemini in Canada,” Mr. Krawczyk said.
Google parent company Alphabet Inc. GOOG-Q announced the launch of its chatbot service to test users last February, with a wider rollout in the U.S. and Britain in March. The product rivals ChatGPT, a similar generative-AI chatbot from Microsoft-backed MSFT-Q OpenAI that was launched in November, 2022, and expanded to include a mobile iOS application last May.
Google’s Gemini app is available for iOS and Android as of Thursday, with plans to launch the mobile app in Canada on Monday, Mr. Krawczyk said.
Despite the fact users in Britain got first dibs on the chatbot, Mr. Krawczyk said Britain and a handful of other countries would be excluded from the approaching global launch of the Gemini app.
“When we expand globally, we work with policy-makers in these regions and we want to make sure that we continue that commitment,” he said, adding, “We certainly hope to be able to expand to the U.K. and more countries soon.”
In a December blog post, the company said Gemini Ultra (Google’s largest and most capable AI model) beat GPT-4, the AI model that powers ChatGPT’s paid service, on 30 out of 32 large language model benchmarks.
Free versions are powered by Gemini Pro, but Google launched Gemini Advanced, a paid model that gives users access to Ultra 1.0 for $26.99 a month through a new Google One AI Premium plan.
In blind evaluations, Mr. Krawczyk said third-party tests showed Gemini Advanced to be the most preferred paid chatbot.
Nevertheless, visits to ChatGPT far outnumber visits to Google’s chatbot, with an average of 1.6 billion monthly visits to OpenAI’s product versus 313.2 million to Bard between November, 2023, and January, according to Similarweb, an analytics site that tracks website traffic.
Alphabet Inc. and Microsoft both reported healthy increases in earnings in their latest quarters, but costs surged as the companies made heavy investments in servers, data centres and research.
As for how Google plans to make up for its investments in AI, Mr. Krawczyk pointed to the subscriptions it offers for premium versions such as Gemini Advanced. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has said that Google’s subscription services generated combined revenue of US$15-billion last year.