Google’s AI search could bring dramatic changes to your Internet experience

Google search

The future of Google Search is a big green box.

That’s exactly what Google showed this month at Google I/O, the company’s annual developer conference. The 2023 theme was AI, a term mentioned more than 140 times during the two-hour presentation. Google has unveiled the AI ​​products it will actually release to the public, a about-face for the fearful internet giant in response to growing competition.

Late last year, OpenAI rolled out ChatGPT for nearly universal flattery. Suddenly, everyone had access to a generative AI engine that could seemingly answer any question with a novel answer. It is powered by a large language model, or LLM, which essentially allows it to act as a “autocomplete on steroids,” using massive amounts of text data to figure out what the next best word should be.

The power and ease of ChatGPT has helped it become the fastest growing consumer web platform ever. He prompted Microsoft to increase its investment in OpenAI and integrate ChatGPT’s technology directly into Bing search earlier this year, a move that helped the company see a 16% increase in traffic. The day before Microsoft unveiled Bing AI, Google announced its own generative AI engine, Bard, though it botched its launch and lost $100 billion in stock market value in the process. The stock has since rebounded to its highest level so far this year.

In many ways, Google I/O was a referendum on the company’s shaky entry into consumer AI and a clear message to skeptics (and investors) that it’s willing to take radical steps to stay at the forefront of search on the Internet, even if it means upending its core product. Google Search has long been the engine for how we all search for product information, find breaking news, and otherwise interact with the Internet, and for how much businesses make money.

The new Search Generative Experience, or SGE, is an experimental version of Search that de-prioritises the 10 blue links that have defined Google over the past quarter-century. Instead, any question, no matter how specific, is answered in a mushrooming green box that expands as it fills the screen with one person’s answer.

“Now search does the heavy lifting for you,” said Cathy Edwards, Google’s vice president of engineering, during I/O. You said that in the search we know today, complex queries have to be broken down into smaller questions where you, the user, have to sift through the information yourself and formulate the answer in your head. SGE can do all of this automatically, even allowing you to ask follow-up questions.

Google Search Generative Experience is an experimental version of Search that integrates results generated by artificial intelligence, similar to Bing and ChatGPT.

CNET

At the same time, it also means not having to visit multiple click sites that web pages rely on, potentially upending the advertising-driven business model of the Internet.

Google is by far the biggest player in online search, with 93% market share, according to Statcounter. Online search engines are also the biggest traffic drivers for websites, with 68% of online experiences starting on a search engine, according to a 2019 report from Brightedge Research. Google’s dominance in search at one point helped it see a $2 trillion valuation.

With SGE, Google is potentially propelling internet users and businesses into a new future, one that will require rethinking how good information can continue to filter through, while incentivizing people to create valuable content to fuel its artificial intelligence machine.

Since SGE memberships have just started, there is no user experience data to share yet. Microsoft, however, has gathered feedback for Bing AI over the past three months and could provide a lens on how consumers might react to AI-driven Google searches.

“Feedback on responses generated by the new Bing has been mostly positive, with 71 percent of those in preview giving the AI-powered responses a thumbs-up, said a Microsoft spokesperson. “We’re seeing healthy engagement on the chat feature, with more questions asked during a session to uncover new insights.”

It’s unclear how the AI-generated news will filter into AI results from Google or Bing. Publications, including CNET, are already experimenting with articles written about artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, the AI ​​itself isn’t always accurate and can have “hallucinations,” where it confidently says something is correct when it isn’t.

If the hallucination problem is eventually solved, generative AI in search could be faster and ultimately better for consumers. But it’s still unknown how it could affect the digital publishing industry, especially if people give up clicking on links en masse.

“As we pioneer new LLM-based capabilities in search, we will continue to prioritize approaches that send valuable traffic to a diverse range of creators and support a healthy, open Web,” said a Google spokesperson. While it’s true that Google links to featured sources in SGE, it’s uncertain whether SGE will result in increased or higher quality traffic for sites.

Microsoft did not answer any questions about traffic to sources when using AI search. Google said it has no plans to share publisher compensation, but will “continue to work with the broader ecosystem.”

“I think [generative AI] it will reduce the amount of outbound traffic because that is the purpose,” said Monica Ho, chief marketing officer at SOCi, a digital marketing firm. However, she speculates that the inbound traffic for the sites could be of higher quality, as the people are looking for specific information instead of bouncing between sites.

If Google becomes unreliable for traffic, there may be no viable alternatives. Social media platforms like Facebook have proven to be unreliable partners for publications, downgrading news on a whim, according to Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and professor of political communication at Oxford University. He added that platforms like Instagram or TikTok “drive relatively few referrals and don’t really feature links like search and social do.”

At present, search engines “crawl” websites daily to gather new information and index it in the results. Websites allow engines to crawl for free due to traffic conversion. But if search AI leads to fewer clicks, the search economy may need a whole new rethink.

“I expect original content to be placed behind paywalls and LLM models will have to pay to read it,” said Don White, CEO of Satisfi Labs, a conversational AI company. In a “Spotify-style compensation model,” White sees a future where sites are paid.

Ultimately, Google will likely have to figure out a way to get revenue to creators and publications so that there’s still an incentive to create quality content.

“Quality data has to fuel the engine, and Google isn’t creating all of its own original content that is unique and authentic,” said Ho. “It has to come from the creators. They know they’re going to have to fuel that engine somehow and make it worthwhile that the content keeps coming.”

Editor’s Note: CNET uses an AI engine to create some personal finance explicators that are edited and vetted by our editors. For more, see this post.


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