MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google on Wednesday unveiled plans to infuse its dominant search engine with more advanced artificial intelligence technology, a push that is in response to one of the biggest threats to its longtime position as the leading gateway of the internet.
The gradual change in the way Google’s search engine works comes three months after Microsoft’s Bing search engine began using technology similar to that which powers its artificially intelligent chatbot ChatGPT, which created one of the most big buzz in Silicon Valley since Apple released the first iPhone. 16 years ago.
Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc., has already tested its own conversational chatbot called Bard. This product, powered by technology called generative AI, which also powers ChatGPT, was only available to people accepted from a waiting list. But Google announced Wednesday that Bard will be available to all participants in more than 180 countries and in more languages outside of English.
Bard’s multilingual expansion will start with Japanese and Korean before adding around 40 more languages.
Now, Google is ready to test the AI waters with its search engine, which has been synonymous with finding things on the Internet for the past 20 years and serves as the linchpin of a digital advertising empire that has generated more than $220 billion in income last year.
“We’re at an interesting inflection point,” Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai told a conference full of developers, in a speech peppered with one AI reference after another. “We’re reimagining all of our products, including search.”
More AI technology is coming to Google’s Gmail with a “Help me write” option that will produce long email replies in seconds and a photo tool called “Magic Editor” that will automatically analyze images.
The AI transition will start cautiously with the search engine that serves as Google’s crown jewel.
The deliberate approach reflects the balancing act Google must negotiate as it tries to stay on top while also maintaining its reputation for delivering reliable search results — a mantle that could be undermined by the proclivity of artificial intelligence to fabricate information that sounds authoritative.
The tendency to produce deceptively convincing answers to questions – a phenomenon euphemistically described as “hallucinations” – has already emerged during early testing of Bard, which, like ChatGPT, relies on ever-evolving generative AI technology.
Google will take the next steps in artificial intelligence through a newly established search lab where people in the US can join a waiting list to test how generative AI will be incorporated into search results. The quizzes also include more traditional links to external websites where users can read more detailed information about the quiz topics. It may take a few weeks for Google to start sending invitations to those accepted on the waiting list to test the AI-infused search engine.
AI results will be clearly labeled as an experimental form of technology, and Google promises AI-generated summaries will sound more factual than conversational — a distinct contrast to Bard and ChatGPT, which are programmed to convey more human-like personas . Google is building guardrails that will prevent artificial intelligence fed into its search engine from answering sensitive health questions like “Should I give Tylenol to a 3-year-old?” — and financial matters. In these cases, Google will continue to direct people to authoritative websites.
Google isn’t predicting how long it will take for its search engine to include generative AI results for all comers. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has been under increasing pressure to demonstrate how its search engine will maintain its lead since Microsoft began loading AI into Bing, which remains a distant second to Google.
The potential threat caused Alphabet’s share price to drop initially, though it recently bounced back to where it was when Bing announced its artificial intelligence plans. More recently, The New York Times reported that Samsung is considering dropping Google as the default search engine on its widely used smartphones, raising the specter that Apple could adopt a similar tactic with the iPhone if Google can’t prove that its search engine may evolve with what appears to be a future AI-led revolution.
Alphabet shares rose 4% on Wednesday after Google’s flurry of AI announcements, reaching $111.75, the highest closing price since Bing began merging with ChatGPT in early February.
As it begins to introduce artificial intelligence into its search engine, Google aims to make Bard smarter by tapping into the next generation of a massive dataset known as the “large language model,” or LLM, which feeds. The LLM on which Bard is based is called the Pathways Language Model, or PaLM. The AI in Google’s search engine will be based on next-generation PaLM2 and another technology known as the Unified Multitask Model, or MUM.
While people will have to wait to see how Google’s search engine implements generative AI to find answers, a new tool will soon be widely available to all users. Google will add a new filter called “Perspectives” that will focus on what people online are saying about any topic entered into the search engine. The new feature will sit alongside the existing search filters for news, images and videos.
As well as using its annual tech showcase to promote its AI prowess, Google also unveiled the first foldable smartphone in its Pixel range of gadgets. Google’s foray into a new kind of smartphone design, which allows users to deploy the device as a mini-tablet, comes nearly three years after Samsung — the leading maker of smartphones powered by Google’s Android software — introduced its first flexible model.
Flip phones have so far remained a niche market, largely due to prices ranging from $1,500 to $2,000. Last year, about 14 million foldable phones were sold worldwide, accounting for just 1 percent of all smartphone shipments, according to research firm International Data Corp.
Google’s foldable Pixel phone will sell for $1,800 and start shipping next month. It will unfold with a hinge and of course be full of AI.