Google turns 25, with an uncertain future with AI on the horizon: NPR
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Google helped shape the Internet. And now, artificial intelligence threatens to change everything.
What is this? Arguably the most successful search engine of all, it turns 25 this week.
- Started in 1999 by two Stanford doctoral students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, their goal, as Page stated in a 2003 Fresh Air interview, was very simple: “We want to give people information. That’s what we do. And so we’ve tried.” To err on this side whenever we can. I think this will be a very interesting issue for the world in the future.”
- Naturally, it has expanded into an entire Internet ecosystem of users; There’s Google Workspace, Google Translate, YouTube (acquired by Google in 2006), Gmail, Google Phones, and more, all going back to those early days of do-it-yourself dorm room.
What is the big deal? Google’s dominance of the Internet is complex.
- Clickbait, targeted advertising and search engine optimization have only spoiled the goal of “informing people”. And then there is advertising.
- Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge, says the Google founders didn’t know what they were doing at first. “In the beginning of Google, they were both totally against advertising,” Patel told NPR. “They knew advertising would be a way to make money, but they thought it would ruin the company. And here we are 25 years later, and Google is the dominant provider of online advertising.” And I think it’s important for all of us to take a moment and look at it and say, “Well, our information architecture is dominated by people searching for things, and these search results are very disparate” swayed by Google’s needs.
- And now, AI could usher in a new era of opportunity — and change — for the search giant.
What do people say? All things considered Ari Shapiro spoke with Patel about the history of Google, and how the emerging technology could affect its future.
Here is Patel on the potential role of AI:
They are there to provide useful information, which is what Google has always imagined itself to be. In the beginning, the way they did this was to look at the entire Internet and send you to pages on the Internet that contained that information. Over time, Google has bought many of the companies that now own and control that information, and it prefers its own companies over competitors who might have better information or more useful services.
They also answer questions directly now. There has been a cottage industry of websites telling people when the Super Bowl is. That was pretty ridiculous, but they were all competing for Google traffic for that query on Super Bowl day. Now, Google tells you the answer to this question.
Maybe that’s fine. But you add something like AI or Google’s generated search experience, which needs to ingest a massive amount of data and then provide the answers on the pages that it ingested, and nobody gets any traffic from that. Nobody gets any value from it. And you can see why a bunch of companies that have organized themselves around Google’s traffic are panicking, because they’ve just given all of their work to Google for free, and you’re not really getting anything else out of it.
Want to hear the full conversation between Ari and Nilay? Click the Play button at the top of this page.
Here’s Patel on whether AI integration could mean an improvement for users:
I think this is one of the questions of the era of artificial intelligence. If no one wants to share their new information with Google, what will you train the AI on? If a group of large publishers said, “Look, our Google traffic is going down, and we’re going to stop letting Google crawl our web pages and stop feeding new information into the Google search machine,” where would the AI get its new, reliable information from? It can’t scrape Instagram. They can’t scrape TikTok. These companies are closed to Google.
I asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai about this, and his answer was that they have YouTube – that YouTube exists – and people will still make YouTube videos. And I think this answer is basically very revealing.
Google knows that a new online content creator isn’t going to start a webpage the same way you started a webpage when you were a guy who wanted to create things on the internet. They will start a TikTok channel or a YouTube channel. So, if the Internet slowly dies because Google and AI suck the value out of it without creating any incentives to create new things, I don’t know where that leaves any of us, really.
So what now?
- Besides the philosophical questions, there are very real and imminent challenges facing Google now.
- The Department of Justice’s antitrust trial against Google is scheduled to begin next Tuesday. The Justice Department and dozens of states are attacking the trade agreements that made Google the default search engine on many phones, web browsers and smart speakers.
- Google called the lawsuit “deeply flawed,” saying in a statement in 2020: “People use Google because they choose to, not because they are forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives. This lawsuit will do nothing to help.” On the contrary, it would artificially subsidize low-quality search alternatives, drive up phone prices, and make it difficult for people to get the search services they want to use.
- Finally, do you remember this movie?