Google rebrands Bard to Gemini as chatbot finally launches in Canada

Canada was conspicuously left off Google’s international expansion list last year.

Seven months after Google rolled out its AI-powered chatbot to over 230 countries and territories, the service has officially launched in Canada.

Google has rebranded its Bard chatbot to Gemini, which is based on Google’s large language model (LLM) of the same name and first unveiled in December. Prior to the launch of the Gemini LLM, Bard was based on other LLMs, including models part of the Language Model for Dialogue Applications, better known as LaMDA, and later the Pathways Language Model, better known as PaLM.

Jules Walter, group product manager of Gemini experiences at Google, said the decision to rebrand Bard stemmed from Google noticing that Bard had become the primary way users would interact with the Gemini LLM.

“That’s why we have this particular renaming: to emphasize our shift in how we think about bringing [generative] AI to users,” Walter added.

The Gemini chatbot is a direct competitor to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Similar to ChatGPT, Google offers a free version, as well as a premium version called Gemini Advanced, available as part of the Google One AI Premium plan, which costs $26.99 CAD per month. 

Walter said the premium version will be more capable of performing highly complex tasks, such as coding and logical reasoning. Gemini Advanced is based on Ultra 1.0, which Google says is its largest and most capable AI model.

In July 2023, Canada was one of only a few countries in the world that did not get access to Bard as part of Google’s international rollout last year. Also on that list of excluded countries were Russia, China, Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea.

At the time, Google was in fierce negotiations with the Canadian government over the Online News Act, legislation designed to require digital platforms to compensate news publishers for the use of their content online. Google initially said it would pull news from Google Search and other products in Canada should the act become law.

In November, the feds struck a deal with Google that guarantees the continuation of Google’s news indexing in Canada. Google has committed to compensating eligible Canadian news organizations with approximately $100 million annually for their content.

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When the agreement was finalized, Facebook parent Meta told CBC News that it had no intentions of permitting news content on its platforms in Canada as long as the Online News Act remains in effect.

Walter said in the context of the Online News Act, Google is interested in working with the government and regulators before bringing its products to market in Canada. “The Government of Canada has committed to addressing core issues with that legislation, and that has enabled us to clear the path for launching Gemini in Canada,” he added.

Some features of the Gemini chatbot include extensions, which allow Gemini to tap into information across multiple Google apps and services; image generation based on Google’s Imagen 2 model; and a “double-check” feature that sources material using Google search to prevent AI hallucinations.

The Gemini chatbot is currently available to users in Canada on the web. Google has also launched a mobile app for users in the United States, with plans to launch the same in Canada “very soon,” according to Walter.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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