Google Rolls Out Huge Change to Search Engine

Top result for some searches will be AI-generated summaries, not links
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 14, 2024 4:28 PM CDT
Google Rolls Out Massive Change to Search
Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at a Google I/O event in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, May 14, 2024.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Google rolled out a retooled search engine Tuesday that will frequently favor responses crafted by artificial intelligence over website links, a shift promising to quicken the quest for information while also potentially disrupting the flow of money-making internet traffic. The makeover announced at Google's annual developers conference will begin this week in the US when hundreds of millions of people will start to periodically see conversational summaries generated by the company's AI technology at the top of the search engine's results page. More, from the AP:

  • The AI overviews are supposed to only crop up when Google's technology determines they will be the quickest and most effective way to satisfy a user's curiosity—a solution mostly likely to happen with complex subjects or when people are brainstorming, or planning. People will likely still see Google's traditional website links and ads for simple searches for things like a store recommendation or weather forecasts.

  • Google began testing AI overviews with a small subset of selected users a year ago, but the company is now making it one of the staples in its search results in the US before introducing the feature in other parts of the world. By the end of the year, Google expects the recurring AI overviews to be part of its search results for about 1 billion people.
  • The injection of more AI into Google's search engine marks one of the most dramatic changes that the company has made in its foundation since its inception in the late 1990s. It's a move that opens the door for more growth and innovation but also threatens to trigger a sea change in web surfing habits.

  • "This bold and responsible approach is fundamental to delivering on our mission and making AI more helpful for everyone," Google CEO Sundar Pichai told a group of reporters. It also will bring new risks to an internet ecosystem that depends heavily on digital advertising as its financial lifeblood.
  • Google stands to suffer if the AI overviews undercuts ads tied to its search engine—a business that reeled in $175 billion in revenue last year alone. And website publishers will be hurt if the AI overviews are so informative that they result in fewer clicks on the website links that will still appear lower on the results page.
  • Google's AI overviews could also provoke lawsuits, especially if they siphon away traffic and ad sales from websites that believe the company is unfairly profiting from their content.
  • But it's a risk that the company had to take as the technology advances and is used in rival services such as ChatGPT and upstart search engines such as Perplexity, says Jim Yu, executive chairman of BrightEdge, which helps websites rank higher in Google's search results. "This is definitely the next chapter in search," Yu says. "It's almost like they are tuning three major variables at once: the search quality, the flow of traffic in the ecosystem, and then the monetization of that traffic. There hasn't been a moment in search that is bigger than this for a long time."
(More Google stories.)

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