Google Search Gets Smarter (Again)

Google search just got a little bit smarter. The company has announced that its new AI-powered search feature, Search Generative Experience (SGE), is getting new skills. These include updates to both conversational and generative AI – the two main flavours of AI getting the most attention today.

Taking those one at a time, the conversational-AI update brings Chat-GPT-like functionality to generate written content on-demand. For example, it will compose email copy for you, given key parameters like subject, context, tone, and length. This applies across other formats like fiction and term papers.

Like many other AI writing agents we’ve seen, this will likely find a use case as more of an assistant, or starting point to a given written work. It’s unlikely that the AI agent will get it right the first time, but it can do some of the heavy lifting in advancing a first draft to then be edited and fact-checked manually.

Moving on to the second big update, Google users can now generate images directly from the search bar. This brings generative AI functionality like Midjourney, and conveniently embeds it in a familiar place: Google search. In fairness, Bing has already done this for both images and text (e.g., Bing Chat).

Kid Friendly, Google Approved

Backing up, Search Generative Experience is Google’s beta tool, available in Google Search Labs, to marry search and AI in elegant ways. Prior to the above moves, it rolled out functions like writing AI-powered summaries of a given web page or defining unknown terms that show up on a page.

SGE has also expanded into travel and product search, and it will likely continue to expand into various verticals and use cases. For example, SGE lets users make ChatGPT-like natural-language queries like “What time of year is best to go to Thailand?” or “Is this restaurant good for a kid’s birthday party?”

The latter – an example given by Google itself – broadens the definition of “travel” to include local search. In either case, the results served to users will tap into a variety of Google data silos including Google Business Profiles (formerly Google My Business), and other relevant sources for travel queries.

As for product search updates, they’re similar to the AI travel search functions, but focus instead on product-level info. The same natural language search functionality is offered, pulling content from Google Shopping including descriptions, reviews, prices, images, and recommendations.

Prime Time

All the above validates our ongoing assertion that, while Google was late to generative AI relative to Microsoft, it will be just fine. It’s better positioned for AI than anyone, given the knowledge graph it has assembled in 25 years of being the world’s search engine. That’s basically one big training set.

Beyond all that data, Google also has a head start on AI and machine learning competency. This draws on all the research it’s done with Tensor and Transformer (the “T” in ChatGPT). So though it was late to market generative AI, relative to Microsoft at least, it has a lot going on under the surface.

And though Bing’s early lead is certainly meaningful – helping it land valuable deals to power AI functions for Netflix, Meta, and Snap – this will be a long game. Google has time to catch up. But importantly, the Bing-Google AI rivalry will be more of a contest than we saw in the Google-dominant era of search.

Meanwhile, Google’s latest AI features have already started rolling out to clusters of SGE users, then will expand to everyone in a matter of weeks. Beyond that, we expect rapid-fire rollouts of AI-infused search. That will live in SGE for now, before eventually being migrated to Google’s prime-time lineup.

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