Google ushers in the AI era in its search engine

Google is revamping its dominant internet search engine with AI functions. Initially, all users in the USA and soon in other countries will be shown an overview of search results generated by artificial intelligence.

(Images: Google)

It remains to be seen 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 source of revenue for the company.

"We'll do the Googling for you" is the new motto for web search, said Liz Reid, the top manager responsible, at the Google I/O developer conference on Tuesday. It is now possible to ask several questions in one search query - not just where Pilates studios are located in Boston, for example, but also how to get there and book a time slot.

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

The market leader takes the initiative

However, chatbots and other AI applications make it easier to answer questions directly instead of just displaying a collection of web links. AI start-ups such as Perplexity AI want to give Google a run for its money. So far, they have not been able to seriously challenge the market leader's throne. However, Google is not waiting for them to become stronger before making innovations in web search, but is now taking the initiative itself.

Google also made it clear that the company does not want to leave the field to challengers such as ChatGPT inventor OpenAI when it comes to AI assistants of the future. OpenAI had made headlines the day before with a 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 gave instructions on how to solve a math equation that an OpenAI employee had written down on a piece of paper. ChatGPT was also able to interpret moods based on facial expressions.

Google demonstrated similar overarching capabilities of a new AI software called "Project Astra" - not live on stage, however, but in a previously filmed video. Google is relying on its in-house AI model Gemini to compete with the popular chatbot ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence software. Some of the functions that could be seen in the Astra demonstration are soon to be added to Gemini, as Google manager Koray Kavukcuoglu announced.

Google is also trying to allay the concerns of website operators that the AI overviews could cause traffic to them to dry up. Google manager Hema Budaraju said that previous test runs had shown that the "AI Overviews" contained more diverse links than usual - and that users clicked through to them.

Google had previously introduced a function that allows you to search the internet by simply circling an object in a photo or words on the smartphone display. At the Google I/O, it was also demonstrated that it is enough to take a short video of a faulty record player to get instructions on how to fix the problem with this model. "Google Search is generative AI on the scale of human curiosity," said CEO Sundar Pichai.

The new AI-supported search will initially be introduced in English in the USA. However, it is set to come to Europe "in the foreseeable future".

Google believes humanity is only just beginning to use AI

"We have been investing in AI for more than a decade," emphasized Pichai. And yet the technology is still in its infancy. 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 simultaneously. The subscription version of the AI software can currently read a PDF document of up to 1500 pages or a one-hour video in one go and answer questions about it. No other chatbot is able to do this, emphasized Google manager Sissie Hsiao. By the end of the year, the aim is to double this figure.

Google also relies on "AI agents" - assistants that can independently perform tasks involving several steps. They could, for example, take care of all returns or handle the necessary re-registrations when moving house and look up useful addresses in the new neighborhood.

Among other things, Pichai demonstrated how the software can now search for all images from the collection of personal photos on request, for example those relating to a child's swimming progress. At the end, the Google boss had Gemini count how many times the term AI was used during the two-hour presentation: more than 120 times. (DPA/Andrej Sokolow/Christoph Dernbach)

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