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Google AI Overview Will Change the Entire Internet Again

Google AI Overview Will Change the Entire Internet Again


Illustration: Pablo Delcan

The biggest mystery surrounding Google over the past year has revolved around its core product, its original and still primary source of revenue. The question is, will search engines be replaced by AI chatbots? In May, the company provided some clarity. “In the next era of search, AI will do the work for you so you don't have to,” Google says, announcing that “AI Overviews,” Google's new name for AI-generated answers, is coming soon. According to the video, it's at the top of the user's results page. This is a half-step towards a future where the Internet, when given a query, simply answers it, without providing any links or clues.

Any revision to Google's search engine has significant implications. Search boxes are one of the primary interfaces through which people interact with the Internet, computers, and phones. This half-step is being treated as a groundbreaking event in the media. Because Google's role in his web as an attention distributor and monetizer is significant, controversial, and perhaps about to change.

But over the course of about a year of testing, Google's AI search experiment has, to me at least, become more of an addition to an increasingly jumbled results page than a complete overhaul. It felt like. Lately, I've often carefully skimmed the content of an AI's answer and realized it was patently wrong. As Google claims, it will probably get better. If users like it anyway, quality may not be important. In any case, the long-standing question is whether Google is in the process of resetting the entire web economy, and whether synthetic summaries will deal the final and fatal blow to publishers and other platforms that rely on Google. It will never be resolved.

It's clear what Google wants from AI when it comes to search. The goal is to fend off competition from the likes of OpenAI and maintain the top position. But search was just one of dozens of products and features unveiled at the company's developer summit, Google I/O, in May. The search update served his second purpose, which was to let the world know the company was fully committed to AI. The bet was that AI offered an opportunity to fundamentally reset privacy norms in favor of companies like Google once again.

Google is revealing or teasing new image, audio, and video generation tools. Introducing a new voice assistant that can answer questions about what you see on your device's camera and screen. The Assistant will be upgraded to answer questions about documents, just-ended meetings, and what's in your inbox. There will be a program that can scan phones in real time for language associated with scams.

Some of these features are in live demo stage, but quite a few will be available as offers and marketing. No matter what our competitors do with AI, Google seems to be saying we're doing it too, and in fact, we were doing it first.

But a different story is coming into focus that positions AI not as a pure technology, but as a pure technology where Google is trying to sort out the creators of the relationship. victim? both? But instead, he sees it as a continuation of one of the company's hallmarks, which the former CEO described as “getting up to the creepy line and not crossing it.” Many of these tools make clear claims about what they can do. In return, it provides more complete access to every aspect of your digital life. Whatever it is, the rush to deploy AI is a push for more access and more data, and represents an industry assumption that users will abandon AI.

Moments like this are rare, but not unheard of. In 2004, shortly after Gmail launched, Google faced backlash for inserting contextual ads into users' inboxes. At the time, this was considered by some to be a bold and arrogant violation. Scanning private communications in the way Google is proposing would be like letting the proverbial genie out of the bottle, privacy advocates wrote in an open letter to Google executives. This immediately sounds strange and prescient. In hindsight, users were clearly happy to make this exchange, regardless of the extent to which they understood or thought it, but this is actually how everything works on the Internet. did.

By 2017, Google, which offered maps, workplace software, smartphone operating systems, and a host of other products that relied on collecting data from users, stopped scanning emails to target contextual ads. did. It was a gesture toward privacy that felt kind of absurd at the time, but Google is in our pockets, its software is on billions of phones, and users are I lived my life through it.

Since then, changes in norms around privacy have tended to arrive quietly, with more subtle effects. One day, a smartphone user opened his phone and found that his face was scanned in his photo library and organized in people's albums. Sigh. And during a tense meeting with colleagues, Zoom users noticed that the meeting was automatically transcribed into a searchable format. Hmm.

With AI assistants, there are new tools that seem like magic, and companies like Google are eager to bring them to market as there is an opportunity for technology companies like this to change things even more. These tools often rely on access to data already granted by the user. For example, it's not exactly a scandal for Google Assistant to request access to documents hosted in his Google Docs, but it's not entirely unimportant, either, and the idea of ​​an omniscient helper is a sign of digital autonomy. It suggests the extent to which we can shape our expectations about sexuality. .

In the past, Google has resorted to rather unconvincing arguments to argue, for example, that it collects data about users that it needs to show you more relevant and interesting ads. In most cases, they made their case in the form of software, and users responded with adoption or rejection. In contrast, AI assistants make more direct claims about the need for and effectiveness of user monitoring. The Assistant obviously works better if the user can see what they can see, or at least see what's on the screen. The fact that they haven't quite arrived yet means that when users do arrive, users will find themselves between increasingly smarter, more human-like assistants and demands for access to ever more intimate material. Minimize any tension you may feel.

Just as years of data collected from the web through Google Search have allowed Google to generate relevant results for itself, the AI ​​Assistant will help users manipulate the vast amount of data Google has amassed over the years. We claim that we can help you. Collect for non-marketing purposes with your technical consent. In a narrower sense, this seems like a better deal, where at least some of the value of a vast personal corpus is returned to the user in the form of a helpful chatbot. But in a broader sense, the illusion of choice should feel familiar. (There are signs that Google is aware and paying attention to privacy concerns. Google has emphasized, for example, that its call screening feature relies on on-device AI rather than sending data to the cloud. )

The popular notion that the AI ​​boom is a disruptive threat to internet giants has so far been met with even more skepticism than the view that the past, present, and future needs of the technology industry are neatly and logically aligned. It deserves some perspective. These companies have built their existing businesses on capturing, generating, and monetizing large amounts of highly personal data about their users. Meanwhile, the secret to unlocking the full bright potential of large-scale language model-based AI, whether at the level of personal assistants or in services that enable machine intelligence, says those building AI: simply more The purpose is to provide access to data. .

It's less a conspiracy or deliberate plan than an ambitious vision of a world where traditional notions of what belongs to us have been redefined beyond recognition. AI companies say they will need to ingest vast amounts of public and private data to deliver on their promises. Google develops a more personal version of the same argument. Soon we'll be able to help you with everything. That's all I need in return from you.

Thank you for subscribing and supporting our journalism. If you prefer to read it in print, you can also find this article in his May 20, 2024 issue of New York Magazine.

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