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Google adds AI to its search function, sparking controversy

Some users will start seeing summaries at the top of the search engine’s results page. Companies fear it will impact web traffic and advertising.

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Less than 1 minute Minutes

UPDATED: 16 May 2024, 7:25 am

Instead of displaying the usual list of website summaries and links, Google is introducing AI-generated summaries to the top of its search engine’s results pages – a move designed to speed up access to information.

According to the Associated Press, the new overviews are more likely to appear when people type complex queries into the search bar. Results for simple searches, like weather forecasts, are expected to follow the usual Google format.

The new system could change the way we surf the internet, and the ways in which websites make money. If the AI summaries are useful enough to stop people from clicking on website links, those sites will see less traffic. Less traffic translates to less revenue from advertisers – potentially devastating some businesses.

[See more: ChatGPT just got more ‘human’]

Marc McCollum, chief innovation officer at digital advertising company Raptive, told the Associated Press that Google’s update was “effectively a transfer of wealth from small, independent businesses to Big Tech.”

He said, “The relationship between Google and publishers has been pretty symbiotic, but enter AI, and what has essentially happened is the Big Tech companies have taken this creative content and used it to train their AI models.” 

Google’s head of search operations, Liz Reid, countered McCollum’s view – saying that testing showed that AI summaries actually encouraged users to make more search queries. 

[See more: AI will increase energy use and could worsen the climate crisis, report says]

“In reality, people do want to click to the web, even when they have an AI overview,” she said. “They start with the AI overview and then they want to dig in deeper. We will continue to innovate on the AI overview and also on how we send the most useful traffic to the web.” 

At Google’s annual developers conference, held yesterday, the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai described the search engine revamp as a “bold and responsible approach [that] is fundamental to delivering on our mission and making AI more helpful for everyone.”

The new version’s rollout begins in the US this week before going global.

UPDATED: 16 May 2024, 7:25 am

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