Google AI Powered Search Is About To Turn The Online Publishing Industry Upside Down
Google AI Powered Search is about to drop the bomb that will wipe out countless websites. We don’t know when it’s going to happen yet. And I don’t know that any of our nuclear shelters—subscriptions and Facebook-driven traffic—will do any good.
On Wednesday, Google announced several new features at its annual developer conference in Mountain View, California, including new writing tools in Gmail and immersive directions in Google Maps. But one announcement didn’t get much attention outside of tech circles. And it’s arguably the most radical change the internet has seen since Google became the world’s biggest search engine in the early 2000s, AI Powered Search.
The company plans to use artificial intelligence to change how it presents search engine results. And, at the risk of overstating the potential consequences, it will be like dropping a nuclear bomb on an online publishing industry that’s already struggling to survive.
Google demonstrated on Wednesday how it plans to use generative AI in search engine results—a feature that hasn’t been rolled out yet to the general public. Google used an example search inquiry: “What’s better for a family with kids under three and a dog, Bryce Canyon or Arches?”
This query about U.S. national parks in traditional Google Search wouldn’t necessarily provide a comprehensive answer. But, as you can see from the screenshot below, the AI-powered search gives an answer in a conversational style that considers both the age of the children and the dog.
Some people might even consider this a form of plagiarism, as one tech critic wrote in a new Substack post on Thursday. But whatever you call it, the result will
be fewer eyeballs on content creators’ websites and more eyeballs on Google, essentially synthesizing the world’s information and trying to give users an excuse never to leave Google’s ecosystem of products, including Search. Google can sell ads against those eyeballs that might otherwise have been sold by publishers on their websites directly.
Those eyeballs make the commercial web profitable for content creators, and it’s hard to see many websites surviving such a profound change to Google’s most important product. Again, I’d say this is like a nuclear bomb that’s about to drop on the web, given Google Search has about 89% market share in the U.S. and roughly 94% market share worldwide. Google Search is how most people start to answer their questions, whether it’s the specific time and channel of a baseball game or a recipe for chicken noodle soup.
When does Google’s new AI Powered Search capability launch? That part isn’t clear. According to The Verge, the company said it would be rolling out the feature on a trial basis in the coming weeks and taking everything slowly. But with competitors like ChatGPT exploding in popularity, it’s hard to imagine Google will let other tech companies eat its lunch. I know people who’ve already replaced their Google searches with ChatGPT. And that’s precisely what Google is worried about.
Some critics of AI insist that this technology is little more than hype. And I don’t doubt that some of the promises about the technology won’t work exactly how they’re being sold. ChatGPT is notorious for giving bad information that it just invents, sometimes even creating entirely fictional articles and research papers to back up its mistakes—something called “hallucinations” by AI researchers. But that concern is really beside the point. The question isn’t whether AI will deliver wrong answers—it certainly will, and frequently. The question is whether these tools will be rolled out in a way that changes how internet users consume information. And it seems like the answer is already in the affirmative.
The future is hard to predict, as I’ve demonstrated over at Paleofuture, the website I’ve been writing since 2007, which looks at past visions of the future. But if I had to predict what Google’s plans for Search will do to the open web, I’d have to guess that it will
Decimate an already struggling ad-supported industry that so many newspapers and magazines rely on, and
Force more content creators to put things behind a paywall—yet another tactic I never thought I’d do with Paleofuture but started to implement at the start of this year.