Google is expected to announce a more conversational version of its flagship search engine, fueled by artificial intelligence.
The efforts to overhaul its search business with AI, set to be unveiled Wednesday at the company’s I/O conference in Mountain View, California, will showcase how Alphabet Inc.’s Google is responding to competitive threats. Google is asserting its dominance in the market following moves by companies including Microsoft Corp., which is now using technology from the startup OpenAI in its own search product, Bing.
“Consumers now have more access to choice, so AI is Google’s market to lose,” said Zeno Mercer, research analyst at investment advisory firm ROBO Global.
Underpinning all the new product developments are Google’s large language models — massive AI systems that ingest enormous volumes of digital text from news articles, social media posts or other internet sources, and use that material to train software that predicts and generates content on its own when given a prompt or query. Google has pioneered research into LLMs, which power the current crop of AI chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. On Wednesday, Google is expected to report more advances in that research work to help it stay ahead of the competition. The way these generative AI technologies will be applied across the company’s products and services has yet to be announced, but any changes to search have the potential to upend users’ habit of typing keywords into a blank search bar, then getting a list of relevant links to sources.
In February, Google announced its competitor to ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot called Bard. But the product has so far still had a limited audience as users are asked to join a waitlist. At I/O, the public will see if the company has any grander plans for Bard and if it will announce any improvements to the product, as testers have pointed out its flaws and limitations over the past few weeks. Google’s response to naysayers thus far has been to stress that Bard is designed to be a “creative companion,” not a replacement for its trusted search product.
Google has also hinted that it will use its developer conference to highlight new generative AI-powered offerings across products like Workspace — Google Docs, Sheets and Slides — as well as in its cloud services. Google in the past has suggested its AI could help with creating slide presentations and sales-training documents, taking notes during meetings and drafting emails to colleagues, but experiments have been limited to its Google Cloud clients. Google previously said that it planned to eventually offer the features to the general public.
Mercer, the research analyst, said Google is now at an “inflection point where it needs to rapidly iterate and make changes,” just like it did in its early days. “If it doesn’t, consumers will start looking for alternatives,” Mercer said.Google is also unveiling a foldable Pixel smartphone. The company posted a video and photos of the device, called the Pixel Fold, showing a phone with a large external display and an even bigger internal screen that can close up like a clamshell.
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