Google has launched a revamped search engine powered by artificial intelligence, as it rushes to make up lost ground in the race to bring powerful new language models to the internet search business.
The US tech group on Wednesday unveiled an overhaul of its search engine to incorporate AI advances that have been sweeping through the tech world since the launch of Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT six months ago.
“With generative AI, we are taking the next step with a bold and responsible approach,” Sundar Pichai, Google chief executive, said at a presentation on Wednesday.
At its annual conference for developers, Google said it would offer millions of users a feature within search that will include AI-generated summaries to queries similar to those given by chatbots such as ChatGPT.
The search feature will initially only be available in the US through a waiting list system. Google said it would then look to roll out the feature more widely in the coming months.
The AI-driven search feature, as well as updates to its Bard chatbot and products such as Gmail and Google Docs, are powered by the company’s large language AI model, PaLM 2, which was also launched on Wednesday.
Google has been scrambling to catch up with Microsoft on consumer AI products. In February, Microsoft beat its rival to the punch by unveiling an AI-driven Bing search engine using OpenAI’s GPT technology. A month later, OpenAI revealed its language model, GPT-4, which users can access through a premium version of ChatGPT and via Bing.
The emergence of generative AI systems capable of producing plausible answers to questions in natural language has opened the first new front in the battle for search dominance for more than a decade.
Microsoft’s overhaul of Bing caused a dip in the share price of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, wiping billions of dollars off its market value as Wall Street digested the potential damage to Google’s search dominance from a new AI battle with Microsoft.
In April, Alphabet merged its DeepMind and Google Brain AI research units in an effort to accelerate AI development.
Google said its revamped search engine offers the option to follow up on the original search query in a conversational style, without the need for repeating context or details already provided.
AI-driven answers will also include links to web sources from which the answers are derived in its attempt to deal with so-called hallucinations or fabricated information. Users will still be able to access the original Google Search format of a list of links below the machine-generated answers.
“Users want to see information being attached to a prominent brand, like . . . the World Health Organization, or a trusted news brand,” said Cathy Edwards, vice-president of Google Search. “We don’t think users want to be told by an AI what the answer is.”
Edwards added that advertising would be “a core part” of the search results, providing more information to users as they delved into the suggestions made by the AI. Google has faced worries that AI-generated answers would reduce the number of adverts users click on, undermining its core business.
Google already uses AI software across its products, including in its search engine to choose the most relevant results or autocomplete search queries, and in Google Docs and Gmail, for features such as Smart Compose. The company said it had recorded 180bn instances of AI use in its workspace tools last year.
The latest AI launches will allow users to input text queries and receive entire documents or emails generated by AI, and also allow them to create AI-generated images in slideshows and auto-generate tables.
“We’re not trying to replace people but help people get their jobs done faster by providing them with a starting point,” said Slav Petrov, a research scientist at Google.
As part of its new Search results, Google will also trial a social feature called Perspectives, which will show users information from popular individuals on social media platforms and discussion boards, in the form of videos, images and written posts, rather than links to websites.
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