Google Search will now show AI-generated answers to millions by default


Google is shaking up Search. On Tuesday, the company announced big new AI-powered changes to the world’s dominant search engine at I/O, Google’s annual conference for developers. With the new features, Google is positioning Search as more than a way to simply find websites. Instead, the company wants people to use its search engine to directly get answers and help them with planning events and brainstorming ideas.

“[With] generative AI, Search can do more than you ever imagined,” wrote Liz Reid, vice president and head of Google Search, in a blog post. “So you can ask whatever’s on your mind or whatever you need to get done — from researching to planning to brainstorming — and Google will take care of the legwork.”

Google’s changes to Search, the primary way that the company makes money, are a response to the explosion of generative AI ever since OpenAI’s ChatGPT released at the end of 2022. Since then, a handful of AI-powered apps and services including ChatGPT, Anthropic, Perplexity, and Microsoft’s Bing, which is powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4, have challenged Google’s flagship service by directly providing answers to questions instead of simply presenting people a list of links. This is the gap that Google is racing to bridge with its new features in Search.

Starting today, Google will show complete AI-generated answers in response to most search queries at the top of the results page in the US. Google first unveiled the feature a year ago at Google I/O in 2023, but so far, anyone who wanted to use the feature had to sign up for it as part of the company’s Search Labs platform that lets people try out upcoming features ahead of their general release. Google is now making AI Overviews available to hundreds of millions of Americans, and says that it expects it to be available in more countries to over a billion people by the end of the year. Reid wrote that people who opted to try the feature through Search Labs have used it “billions of times” so far, and said that any links included as part of the AI-generated answers get more clicks than if the page had appeared as a traditional web listing, something that publishers have been concerned about. “As we expand this experience, we’ll continue to focus on sending valuable traffic to publishers and creators,” Reid wrote.

In addition to AI Overviews, searching for certain queries around dining and recipes, and later with movies, music, books, hotels, shopping and more in English in the US will show a new search page where results are organized using AI. “[When] you’re looking for ideas, Search will use generate AI to brainstorm with you and create an AI-organized results page that makes it easy to explore,” Reid said in the blog post.

AI Organized Results Page

Google

If you opt in to Search Labs, you’ll be able to access even more features powered by generative AI in Google Search. You’ll be able to get AI Overview to simplify the language or break down a complex topic in more detail. Here’s an example of a query asking Google to explain, for instance, the connection between lightning and thunder.

A new feature in Google Search lets people ask complex queries

Google

Search Labs testers will also be able to ask Google really complex questions in a single query to get answers on a single page instead of having to do multiple searches. The example that Google’s blog post gives: “Find the best yoga or pilates studios in Boston and show details on their intro offers and walking time from Beacon Hill.” In response, Google shows the highest-rated yoga and pilates studios near Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood and even puts them on a map for easy navigation.

Beacon Hill

Google

Google also wants to become a meal and vacation planner by letting people who sign up for Search Labs ask queries like “create a 3 day meal plan for a group that’s easy to prepare” and letting you swap out individual results in its AI-generated plan with something else (swapping a meat-based dish in a meal plan for a vegetarian one, for instance).

Meal Planning

Google

Finally, Google will eventually let anyone who signs up for Search Labs use a video as a search query instead of text or images. “Maybe you bought a record player at a thriftshop, but it’s not working when you turn it on and the metal piece with the needle is drifting unexpectedly,” wrote Reid in Google’s blog post. “Searching with video saves you the time and trouble of finding the right words to describe this issue, and you’ll get an AI Overview with steps and resources to troubleshoot.”

Google said that all these new capabilities are powered by a brand new Gemini model customized for Search that combines Gemini’s advanced multi-step reasoning and multimodal abilities with Google’s traditional search systems.

Catch up on all the news from Google I/O 2024 right here!



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