The world's dominant search engine is following in Microsoft Bing's footsteps with an attempt to make complicated searches faster and easier.
Microsoft beat Google to the punch with a search engine bolstered by the latest AI technologies. On Wednesday, Google revealed how it's fighting back with artificial intelligence that provides elaborate answers to what you're asking about.
At its Google I/O developer conference, the company will open a waitlist for people in the US to start testing the AI-augmented version of its dominant search in Google's Chrome browser or mobile app. The technology is called Search Generative Experience, or SGE.
Google already uses AI techniques for many search functions, including understanding your search query and assessing the most relevant results. New abilities like large language models and generative AI, though, dramatically expand what's possible with the ability to package information into text written on the fly, which is what SGE tries to accomplish.
"These new generative AI capabilities make search smarter and search simpler," said Cathy Edwards, a vice president leading Google search, at Google I/O. "It's a new organization of web results, giving you a helping jumping-off point."
It's the biggest example yet of how generative AI is breathing new life into search engine technology that to most folks probably has looked very much the same for several years. Long gone are the days when Google supplied just "10 blue links" pointing to websites, but AI means Google is taking a major step closer to giving you the information you want directly.
Here's one example of how it could work. If you search for "good bike for a 5-mile commute with hills," Google will combine traditional results with a tinted box to house the generative AI results. After some processing work in Google's data centers, the results arrive: a list of factors like e-bikes and suspension you might consider, some links to related websites, some links to specific bikes, and some suggested followup questions.
After asking about options in red, Google also can show an ad labeled "sponsored" with shopping links. Because yes, Google plans to make money with AI-boosted search.
"We saw that users were coming to us with these very complex problems that might take many, many followup queries sometimes over multiple days," Edwards said. Google sought to reduce the friction of such search engine grunt work, trying to figure out how to get people to what they need in fewer steps.
AI-boosted results will mean people could have less reason to look further than search results, an amplification of Google putting answers like math calculation results, weather forecasts, Wikipedia excerpts and biographical details straight onto the search results page. But Google expects people will want to click through to original sources, especially for complex searches.
But one reason Google is launching the generative search technology through its Search Labs mechanism is to hear what people and businesses on the web think. "We want to get feedback from web publishers and advertisers and make sure that whatever we're building is really thoughtful," Edwards said.
Google is stopping well short of Bing's most famous feature, the chatbot powered by OpenAI's GPT-4 large language model. Google offers a chat interface through its Bard tool, but it's keeping that firmly separate from its search results. There's no hobnobbing with bots, at least for now, and Google reined in its search results with a lighter-weight language model that produces straightforward text, not more creative output.
"We ended up tuning much higher on the factuality side than the fluidity side because we think that's what users expect from Google search," Edwards said.
When you search on Google, the engine often supplies you with "chips" like shopping, maps, videos, or news that you can click or tap to refine your results. Now there's a new chip coming: perspectives.
With it, Google is trying to spotlight personal experiences related to the search, like forum posts or short videos on social media.
"We know that users really like coming to Google for the authoritative information," Edwards said. "We also know that they're looking for those human voices, those authentic perspectives. The core search results page will have a blend of both."
For more from Google I/O, take a look at the Pixel 7A and Android 14.
Editors' note: CNET is using an AI engine to create some personal finance explainers that are edited and fact-checked by our editors. For more, see this post.