Six months ago, Google didn’t seem worried about its search business until the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing chatbot. At Google’s annual I/O conference, the search giant announced its plan to incorporate text generation technology similar to ChatGPT’s. The updated version of Google’s search engine still involves typing a query and responding with links to websites, but it will feature text synthesized by AI that pulls information from different sources across the web.
The Emergence of ChatGPT and Bing Chatbot
OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing chatbot left Google scrambling to catch up. ChatGPT was powered by a machine learning model trained to predict the words likely to follow a string of text, while Bing incorporated ChatGPT into its search engine. Researchers at Google had developed the core technology at work in the new chatbots, but the company had been cautious about publicly launching its precursor to ChatGPT, called LaMDA.
Google’s Move to Catch Up
In March, Google announced a ChatGPT competitor called Bard, and in April, it said it would combine its AI research group with another Alphabet company focused on AI, DeepMind. Now, Google is infusing text-generation technology into its core product, search.
Google’s Generative AI-Infused Search
Google’s updated search engine will still involve typing a query and responding with links to websites, but in some situations, the top of the page will feature text synthesized by AI that pulls from information found on different sources across the web and links to those webpages. For example, a query about the coronation of Britain’s new king might be met with a couple of paragraphs summarizing the event, while a question about ebikes can list bullet-point recaps of product reviews published by various websites and link to online stores where a user can make a purchase.
The Risk of Cannibalizing the Search Advertising Business
Google’s cautious rollout suggests that the company is hesitant to mess with its search advertising business. The company needs to avoid cannibalizing its search advertising business, which provides a significant chunk of its revenue.
The Capabilities and Dangers of Generative AI
While language models like ChatGPT can fabricate information, companies have to develop ways to check that the information served to users is accurate. The advanced AI models have done more than just unsettle Google; they also signal accelerated progress in AI, which might lead to technology that’s more difficult to contain and control.
Google’s dominance and reputation could make this latest move the biggest test yet of the power and usefulness of ChatGPT-style technology. It’s risky, but Google is moving quickly to add ChatGPT-like features to search. Its first efforts to fold the technology into a dominant search product may be the most consequential for its many users and for the company itself.