The world’s most popular search engine is about to look different | CNN Business
Google is moving ahead with plans to bring AI chat features to its main search engine as it works to keep pace with a wave of new artificial intelligence tools that could threaten the online dominance of the company for the first time in decades.
The company said Wednesday it will unveil the next evolution of Google Search, which will use an AI chatbot to answer questions “you never thought search could answer” and help get users the information they want faster than ever before.
With the update, the look of Google Search results will be noticeably different. When users type a query into the main search bar, they will automatically see a pop-up window with an AI-generated answer in addition to displaying the traditional results.
Users can now sign up for a waiting list for Google’s new search, which will launch in the US first, via the Google app or the Chrome desktop browser. A limited number of users will have access to it in the coming weeks, according to the company.
The updates were unveiled at I/O, the company’s annual developer event, which focused on a mix of AI and hardware products. At the event, Google also announced PaLM 2, its latest AI language model to rival ChatGPT creator OpenAI’s GPT-4. The move is a big step forward for the technology that powers the company’s AI products and promises to be better at logic, common sense reasoning and math. It can also generate specialized code in different programming languages.
The moves come as Google’s rivals, including Microsoft, are scrambling to develop and deploy AI features in search engines and productivity tools in the wake of ChatGPT’s viral success. The immense attention paid to ChatGPT prompted Google management to declare a “code red” situation for its search business.
In addition to the changes to search, Google is expanding access to its existing chatbot Bard, which operates outside of the search engine and can help users with tasks such as outlining and writing drafts of essays, planning baby showers from a friend and get lunch ideas based on what’s in the fridge. The tool, which was previously available to early adopters via a US-only waiting list, will soon be available to all users in 120 countries and 40 languages.
Google also releases extensions for Bard from within its own services, such as Gmail, Sheets and Docs, which allow users to ask questions and collaborate with the chatbot within the apps they use.
But incorporating AI chatbots comes with some risks. Those tools have raised concerns about tone and accuracy, the latter of which is especially important for the online search engine that has long been the cornerstone of Google’s business.
In the virtual demo of the CNN tool before Wednesday’s announcement, the AI search tool answered questions about why bees were so important to our ecosystem, whether the Sound Hotel in Portland, Ore., has Peloton bikes (it does) and which are some local chess camps for kids, in a matter of seconds.
The tool scans websites, extracts related information and packages it neatly at the top of the results page, highlighting the sources in a section next to it.
But it’s not perfect; in a search for “best pizzerias in New York City,” the results were filled with restaurants in San Francisco.
Cathy Edwards, Google’s vice president of search, told CNN that it is still “very early” and that the company will continue to make changes in the coming weeks and months.
“We really want to learn and … and fix the problems,” Edwards said. “We don’t want to offer this experience to everyone until we’re confident we’ve got it right.”
Unlike other chatbots, such as ChatGPT, Snapchat’s My AI tool, and Bard, Google’s search tool does not have a “persona.”
“We made a deliberate decision to only reflect information on the web,” Edwards said. “It won’t respond with ‘I think’ or express opinions about things. It’s not something that feels like a lot of other chatbots out there.”
But this choice can become a jarring experience if you’ve spent months using other tools. When CNN asked Google’s tool for suggestions on how to balance work and life with kids at home, it didn’t offer words of empathy or connection for the daily juggle, unlike other chatbots.
The new Google Search also offers an Insights feature to show what other people are buying or thinking and factor that into your results. Another tool called About This Image understands facts about an image, so users can ask questions about when Google first saw the image and whether it appears on other websites. The feature aims to provide “a level of understanding of an image rather than taking it at face value,” Edwards said.
These efforts highlight Google’s commitment to advancing AI, even as the technology behind it has raised concerns.
In March, Google was called out after a Bard demo provided an inaccurate answer to a question about a telescope. Shares of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, fell 7.7% on the day, wiping $100 billion off its market value.
Microsoft’s AI chatbot was also called out for mistakes made in a demo.
Like ChatGPT, the new Google Search and Bard are built on a large language model. They are trained on a large amount of online data to generate convincing responses to user prompts, but these tools are also known to get wrong or “whack” answers.
Google previously told CNN that Bard would serve as a separate, complementary experience to Google Search and planned to “thoughtfully” add large language models for searching “in a deeper way” later.
“We’ve been on a 25-year journey to find, and it’s still such an unsolved problem,” Edwards said. “The next long arc that will be measured in decades will be this one, so we want to be bold but we want to be responsible and do it right.”