Google CEO on future of links, AI making Search quality worse

As Google Search continues to incorporate AI-generated answers into Search, links will live on, Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Bloomberg in a new interview. Here’s what you need to know from Pichai’s interview.

Future of links. Unlike in previous statements, where Pichai indicated that the Search experience would evolve substantively in the next 10 years, in the Bloomberg interview he seemed to indicate that links to websites will continue to be an important part of Google Search results:

  • “I think part of what makes Google Search differentiator is while there are times we give answers, it’ll always link to a wide variety of sources. We’ve had answers in Search now for many, many years. We are just now using generative AI to do that.”
  • “I think [links will] always be an important part of Search.”
  • “There will be times when they want quick answers. My son is celiac, so we did a quick question to see whether something is gluten-free. We just want to know. But often it leads to more things, and then you want to explore more. I think understanding that, meeting all that needs, is part of what makes Search unique.”

Google Search getting worse. Pichai was also asked about search getting worse and “more SEO spam.” Pichai didn’t directly answer it (a typical Pichai non-answer answer), but my interpretation is Pichai acknowledged the issue without confirming it. Here’s what Pichai said, you can decide what it means:

  • “Anytime there’s a transition, you get an explosion of new content, and AI is going to do that. So for us, we view this as the challenge, and I actually think there’ll be people who will struggle to do that, right? So doing that well is what will define a high-quality product, and I think it’s gonna be the heart of what makes Search successful.”

He was later asked how concerned he was about AI-generated content ruining Search. His response:

  • “The challenge for everyone, and the opportunity, is how do you have a notion of what’s objective and real in a world where there’s gonna be a lot of synthetic content? I think it’s part of what will define Search in the next decade ahead, right?”
  • “People often come to Google right away to see whether something they saw somewhere else actually happened. It’s a common pattern we see. We are making progress, but it’s gonna be an ongoing journey, right?”

Google’s business model. Google made more than $192 billion just from search ads in 2023. Pichai was also asked whether a chatbot giving AI-generated answers, rather than links, is “an assault on Google’s business model.”

  • “So we’ve always found people want choices, including in commercial areas, and that’s a fundamental need. And I think we’ve always been able to balance it. As we are rolling out AI Overviews in Search, we’ve been experimenting with ads, and the data we see shows that those fundamental principles will hold true during this phase as well.”

Other quotes of note. Pichai was asked about the perception that Google is behind other companies (e.g., OpenAI, Microsoft) in AI, (even though Google became an AI-first company in 2016):

  • “I take a long-term perspective and say, when the internet just first came about, Google didn’t even exist then, right? So we weren’t the first company to do search, we weren’t the first company to do email, we weren’t the first company to build a browser. So I view this AI as, you know, we are in the earliest possible stages.”

Meanwhile, in what I consider a fairly shocking moment, Pichai – the leader of a company that while not perfect is doing and has done many amazing things – couldn’t articulate a coherent reason when asked a simple question: why anyone we trust Google:

  • “Well, I share the notion that no one, you shouldn’t blind lead, you know? That’s why it’s important to have systems in place. Regulation has a part to play, you know, test balance innovation. But as these AI systems get more capable, it shouldn’t just be based on a system of trust people or trust companies.”

What’s the biggest threat to Google’s future, according to Pichai:

  • “…not executing well.”

Pichai was also asked whether we’ll look back on this “LLM era” and laugh because it will someday look basic and rudimentary:

  • “I hope we do … my kids aren’t impressed by touchscreens or the fact that they have this extraordinary amount of computing in their hands. So similarly … there’s no reason we wouldn’t scale up our computing a hundred thousand times in a few years. … I hope some of this looks like a toy in the future. I hope it is that way, otherwise, we didn’t do our job well.”

Why we care. Just the other day, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said “Google is not about blue links. It’s about organizing the world’s information,” which seemed to echo Pichai’s recent statement about Google evolving toward Search Generative Experience, where links to websites will eventually become less central to Search. AI answers are the present and future of Search – they’re not going away, especially if ChatGPT delivers on its rumored search product.

The interview. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and the Future of AI | The Circuit

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