Conversational AI is coming to Google Search, but not right away

Google CEO Sundar Pichai confirms the company will revamp its core search engine to include a chat-based AI model, though he doesn’t specify a timeline.

“The opportunity space, if any, is bigger than before,” Pichai said.(Opens in a new window) The Wall Street Journal. “Will people be able to ask Google questions and interact with LLMs [large language models] in the context of research? Absolutely.”

The new experience is more likely to debut months than years from now, as ChatGPT and Microsoft Bing are already publicly available. Google released its own AI chatbot, Bard, for beta testing in late March, but it’s a waitlist-only “first experience,” as Google puts it.

Bard is a standalone website, separate from Google’s main search engine, although it does contain links to the mothership for fact-checking and additional information. Pichai says Google is currently refining the product and needs to prepare its infrastructure for a future public launch.

Given the enormous computing power consumed by large language models such as Bard, ChatGPT and Bing, the transition will be costly, especially at the size of Google (it controls 85%(Opens in a new window) of global search volume, compared to 9% for Bing? Pichai says the company’s two AI teams, Google Brain and DeepMind, will work together to reduce the load.

“I expect a lot stronger collaboration, because some of these efforts will require more computation, so it makes sense to do it together on some scale,” Pichai says. Google also plans to cut 12,000 jobs, or 6% of its workforce, this year.

In our comparison of Bard, ChatGPT and Bing, one main difference is how users access them. Bing offers the closest model to what Google could launch since it is already integrated into the public search engine. When users first access the page, the welcome screen prompts them to engage with the chatbot first and scroll down for a more traditional link-based experience.

Home page for Bing

The home page has a chatbot prompt at the top. (Credit: Bing)

We asked Bard how Google was going to integrate it into its flagship search engine, to which he replied, “Google has not yet announced any specific plans on how it will integrate Bard into its main search engine. However, there are a few possibilities.” All aim to replace a list of links with a summarized and concise answer of the information found in those links.

“Ultimately, how Google integrates Bard into its core search engine will depend on a number of factors, including Bard’s capabilities, user needs and the competitive landscape,” Bard said.

Google Bard answers the question about the future search experience.

Google Bard answers the question about the future search experience. (Credit: Bard/Emily Dreibelbis)

Regardless of user experience, ethical questions about AI’s potential to spread misinformation are likely to emerge, with Google being the world’s largest search engine. Earlier this month, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak and other tech giants released a letter calling for a six-month pause on AI systems more powerful than GPT-4, made by the parent company of ChatGPT OpenAI, although AI ethicists say this approach is short-sighted.

A pause in AI development seems unlikely. Instead, Pichai suggests that more widespread AI integration is on the horizon. He says smaller AI models will become increasingly democratized and useful for businesses and individuals to design and run their own algorithms on personal devices. “You’ll have a whole range of options,” he says. “Technology will be more accessible than people expect.”

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