Google ushers in the AI ​​era in its search engine

Internet giant
Google ushers in the AI ​​era in its search engine

Liz Reid, head of Google search, speaks at a Google I/O event in Mountain View

© Jeff Chiu/AP

Every day, hundreds of millions of people start their journey online with a Google search. AI start-ups are still trying in vain to break the dominance. Now Google itself is taking the offensive.

Google is transforming its dominant Internet search engine with AI functions. Initially, all users in the USA and soon in other countries will be shown overviews of search hits created by artificial intelligence. It is still unclear what impact this will have on the business model of websites that depend on users finding them via Google. It is also unclear what this will mean for Google’s revenue from advertising in the Internet search environment, which is a key moneymaker for the group.

“We do the Googling for you,” is the new motto for web searches, said the responsible top manager Liz Reid on Tuesday at the Google I/O developer conference. You can now ask several questions in one search query – not just where Pilates studios are in Boston, but also how to get there and book a time slot.

With its software algorithm that selects relevant web links to user queries, Google became the dominant search engine. This was also accompanied by the business idea that turned Google into a veritable money-printing machine: companies pay money for their links to appear next to the search results.

Google takes the initiative

However, with chatbots and other AI applications, it is becoming easier to answer questions directly instead of just displaying a collection of web links. AI start-ups like Perplexity AI want to give Google more competition. So far they have not been able to seriously challenge the market leader’s throne. But with the innovations in web search, Google is not waiting until they get stronger, but is now taking the initiative itself.

Google also made it clear that when it comes to AI assistants of the future, the company does not want to leave the field to challengers such as ChatGPT inventor OpenAI. OpenAI had made headlines just the day before with the live demonstration of a version of ChatGPT that can converse fluently with users and also take visual information from the smartphone camera into account. For example, the chatbot instructed how to solve a math equation that an OpenAI employee wrote down on a piece of paper. ChatGPT was also able to interpret mood based on facial expressions.

Google demonstrated similar comprehensive capabilities of a new AI software called “Project Astra” – although not live on stage, but in a previously filmed video. In competition with the popular chatbot ChatGPT and other software with artificial intelligence, Google relies on its in-house AI model Gemini. Some features that were seen in the Astra demonstration will soon be coming to Gemini, as Google manager Koray Kavukcuoglu announced.

At the same time, Google is trying to allay the concerns of website operators that the AI ​​overviews could cause data traffic to them to dry up. Previous test runs have shown that there are more diverse links in the “AI Overviews” than usual – and that users also click through there, said Google manager Hema Budaraju.

Google had previously introduced a function in which all it took to search the Internet was to circle an object in a photo or words on the smartphone display. It was also demonstrated at Google I/O that it is enough to make a short video of a defective turntable to get instructions on how to fix the problem with that model. “Google search is generative AI in the dimension of human curiosity,” said CEO Sundar Pichai.

The new AI-powered search will initially be launched in English in the US. But it should come to Europe and Germany “in the foreseeable future”.

Google sees humanity only at the beginning when it comes to AI use

“We have been investing in AI for more than a decade,” emphasized Pichai. And yet the technology is only at the beginning. Among other things, Google is working on expanding the so-called “context window” – i.e. the amount of information that an AI model can evaluate at the same time. The subscription version of the AI ​​software can currently capture a PDF document up to 1,500 pages long or a one-hour video at once and answer questions about it. No other chatbot is capable of this, emphasized Google manager Sissie Hsiao. They want to double the values ​​at the end of the year.

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Google is also relying on “AI agents” – assistants that can independently carry out multi-step tasks. You could, for example, take care of returns completely or, if you move, do the necessary re-registration and find useful addresses in the new neighborhood.

Pichai demonstrated, among other things, how the software can now select all images from the collection of personal photos that, for example, show a child’s swimming progress. Finally, the Google boss asked Gemini to count how often the term AI was used in the almost two-hour presentation: it was more than 120 times.


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