Google is designing sweeping search changes to fend off AI rivals

Google is designing sweeping search changes to fend off AI rivals

Google is designing sweeping search changes to fend off AI rivals

Google employees were shocked when they learned in March that South Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung was considering replacing Google with Microsoft’s Bing as the default search engine on its devices.

For years, Bing was also a search engine. But it became much more interesting to industry insiders when it recently added new artificial intelligence technology.

Google’s reaction to Samsung’s threat was “panic,” according to internal messages reviewed by The New York Times. An estimated $3 billion in annual revenue was at stake with the Samsung contract. An additional $20 billion is tied to a similar Apple contract that will be renewed this year.

AI competitors like the new Bing are quickly becoming the most serious threat to Google’s search business in 25 years, and in response, Google is racing to build an all-new tech-powered search engine. It also upgrades the existing one with AI features, according to internal documents reviewed by The Times.

New features, known as Project Magi, are created by designers, engineers, and executives working in so-called sprint rooms to polish and test the latest releases. The new search engine would offer users a much more personalized experience than the company’s current service, trying to anticipate user needs.

Google spokesperson Lara Levin said in a statement that “Not all brainstorming or product ideas lead to a launch, but as we’ve said before, we’re excited to bring new features powered by AI for research, and will share more details soon.”

Billions of people use Google’s search engine every day for everything from finding restaurants and directions to understanding a medical diagnosis, and that simple white page with the company logo and an empty bar at the medium is one of the most used web pages in the world. . Changes would have a significant impact on the lives of ordinary people, and until recently it was hard to imagine anything that would challenge that.

Google has been concerned about AI-powered competitors ever since OpenAI, a San Francisco startup that works with Microsoft, introduced a chatbot called ChatGPT in November. About two weeks later, Google created a task force in its research division to begin developing AI products, said two people with knowledge of the effort, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Modernizing its search engine has become an obsession at Google, and planned changes could bring new artificial intelligence technology into phones and homes around the world.

Samsung’s threat represented the first potential crack in Google’s seemingly impregnable search business, which was worth $162 billion last year. While it’s unclear if Microsoft’s work with AI was the primary reason Samsung was considering a switch after the past 12 years, that was the assumption within Google. The contract is being negotiated and Samsung could stay with Google.

But the idea that Samsung, which makes hundreds of millions of smartphones with Google’s Android software every year, is even considering switching search engines has shocked Google employees.

After some workers were told the company was looking for volunteers this month to help put together materials for a presentation at Samsung, they reacted with smiles and surprise. “Wow, OK, that’s crazy,” one person replied.

A Google spokesperson said the company is continually improving its search engine to give its partners more reasons to choose Google, and Android phone makers are free to adopt technologies from different companies to improve the search engine. experience of their users.

Samsung and Microsoft declined to comment.

Google has been researching AI for years. Its DeepMind lab in London is considered one of the best centers for AI research in the world, and the company has been a pioneer with AI projects, such as self-driving cars and so-called large models. of languages ​​that are used in the development of chatbots. Over the past few years, Google has used large language models to improve the quality of its search results, but has delayed full adoption of AI because it has been prone to generating false and biased statements.

Now the priority is to take control of the industry’s next big thing. Last month, Google launched its own chatbot, Bard, but the technology has received mixed reviews.

Plans for the new search engine, which demonstrates Google’s ambitions to reinvent the search experience, are still in their early stages, with no clear timeline for when the new search technology will be released.

The system would learn what users want to know based on what they search for when they start using it. And it would offer lists of pre-selected options for items to buy, information to find, and other information. It would also be more conversational – kind of like chatting with a helpful person.

But long before the search engine can be rebuilt, Project Magi will add functionality to the existing search engine, according to internal documents. Google has more than 160 people working there full-time, a person with knowledge of the job said.

Magi would keep ads in the search results mix. Search queries that could lead to a financial transaction, such as buying shoes or booking a flight, for example, would still contain advertisements on their results pages.

This is important to Google because search ads are the main way to make money. Its chatbot, Bard, does not serve ads, and the tech industry expects AI responses to search engines may make ads less relevant to users.

Planned research additions could also answer questions about software coding and write code based on a user’s request. Google may place an ad under the computer code of responses, according to a document.

Last week, Google invited some employees to test out Magi’s features, and encouraged them to ask the search engine follow-up questions to gauge its conversational ability. Google is expected to release the tools to the public next month and add more features in the fall, according to the planning document.

The company plans to initially release the features to up to one million people. This number should gradually increase to 30 million by the end of the year. Features will be available exclusively in the United States.

Google also explored efforts to let people use Google Earth’s AI-assisted mapping technology and search for music through a chatbot conversation, a Google executive wrote in a document. .

Other product ideas are in various stages of development. A tool called GIFI would use AI to generate images in Google Image results. Another tool, Tivoli Tutor, would teach users a new language through open AI text conversations.

Another product, Searchalong, would let users ask a chatbot questions while surfing the web through Google’s Chrome browser. People could ask the chatbot for activities near an Airbnb rental, for example, and the AI ​​would scan the page and the rest of the internet for a response.

Jim Lecinski, Google’s former vice president of sales and services, said the company had been pushed to action and now needed to convince users it was as “powerful, capable and contemporary” as its competitors.

“If we’re the leading search engine and it’s a new attribute, a new feature, a new feature of search engines, we want to make sure we’re in that race as well” , said Mr. Lecinski, professor of marketing. at Northwestern University, said in an interview.

Daisuke Wakabayashi, Karen Weise And Tripp Mickle contributed report.


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