Google’s CEO On What Search Will Be Like In 10 Years

Google and Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai sat down for a discussion on AI that inevitably focused on the future of search. He explained his of search and the role of websites, insisting that the only thing different is the technology.

These Are The Early Days

The interviewer asked if Sundar was caught by surprise by how fast AI has progressed recently. Google’s CEO made it clear that Google was indeed at the forefront of AI and that they have been creating the infrastructure for it since 2016. He also reminded the interviewer that the world is at the very beginning of the AI age and that there’s a lot more coming.

Sundar answered:

“…one of the main things I did as a CEO is to really pivot the company towards working on AI and I think that’ll serve us well for the next decade ahead.

For example now I look back and compute is the hot currency now. We built TPUs, we started really building them at scale in 2016 right, so we have definitely been thinking about this for a long time.

…we’ve always had a sense for uh the trajectory ahead and in many ways we’ve been preparing the company for that and so I think foundationally a lot of our R&D …a lot of it has gone into AI for a long time and so I feel incredibly well positioned for what’s coming.

We’re still in the very early days I think people will be surprised at the level of progress we’re going to see and I feel like we’ve scratched the tip of the iceberg.”

The Only Thing Different Is The Technology

Sundar was also asked about the future of search and what it would look like. There’s a lot of anxiety by publishers and search marketers that AI will replace search entirely and that websites will fall into decline, taking the SEO industry down with it.

So it may come as a relief that Google’s CEO anticipates a future in which people and websites continue playing an important role in search just as it does today.

He starts by asserting that AI has been a part of search for many years and that web ecosystem still plays a role in making search useful. He also underlines the point that the ten blue links hasn’t been a thing for 15 years (people also ask, videos, top news, carousels), that Google has long given direct answers (featured snippets, etc).

This is the question asked:

How are things going to evolve? Like how will people access information in 10 years?

Sundar answers that the only thing different is the technology:

“Look, I think it’s one of the common myths around that Google has been ten blue links for a long time. You know, when mobile came we knew Google search had to evolve a lot. We call it Featured Snippets, but for almost ten years now, you go to Google for many questions we kind of use AI to answer them right, we call it web answers internally.

And so, we’ve always answered questions where we can but we always felt when people come and look for information people in certain cases want answers but they also want the richness and the diversity of what’s out there in the world and it’s a good balance to be had and we’ve always, I think, struck that balance pretty well.

To me all that is different is now the technology by which you can answer is progressing, so we will continue doing that. But this evolution has been underway in search for a long long time.”

Sundar observed that search has always evolved and despite it being different today than what it was like fifteen years ago, it’s still about surfacing information from the web.

He continued:

“Search used to be text and 10 blue links maybe 15 years ago but you know be it images, be it videos, be it finding answers for your questions, those are all changes you know …to to my earlier point people kind of shrug and …we’ve done all this in Google search for a long time and people like it, people engage with it, people trust it.

So to me, I view it as a more natural continuation, obviously with LLMs and AI. I think you have a more powerful tool to do that and so which is what we are putting in search, you know with Search Generative Experience and so we’ll continue evolving it in that direction too.”

Search Engines And The Web Go Together

He was next asked about the question of political and cultural biases in search engines, mentioning that Google’s output has been accused of reflecting the liberal biases of its employees. He was asked, how do you think about what answer to give to questions?

Sundar’s answer returned to referencing the value of information created by people as found on websites as the best source of answers. He said that even with Search Generative Experience, they still want to point users to websites.

This is how he explained it:

“Let’s talk about search for a second here, you’re asking a very important question. I think you know the the work we have done over many many years making sure, from a search standpoint, in search we try to reflect what’s out in the web. And we want to give trustworthy high quality information. We’ve had to navigate all of this for a long time.

I think we’ve always struck the balance, that’s what I’m saying, it’s not about giving an answer, there are certain times you give an answer, what’s the population of the United States, yes it’s an answerable question. There are times you want to surface the breadth of opinions out there on the web which is what search does and does it well.

Just because you’re saying we are summarizing it on top doesn’t mean we veer from those principles. The summary can still point you to the range of opinions out there right, and we do that today all the time.”

SGE Is Not A Chatbot Experience

This next part is very important because it emphasizes the word “search” in the phrase, Search Generative Experience in order to contrast that with talking to a chatbot.

There are a lot of articles predicting the decline of search traffic due to SGE, but there are many reasons why that’s not what’s happening and Sundar explains that by differentiating the search experience from the chatbot experience. This is super important because it’s a point that’s lost on those who kneejerk react that SGE is going to replace websites. According to Sundar, that’s not the case because search and chatbots are two different things.

His answer:

“And so I think that’s different from when you’re in a chatbot and I think that’s the more active area of research where sometimes it has its voice so how do you get those moments right and you know again for us I think it’s an area where we will be deeply committed to getting it right.

How do you do it in a way that which you represent the wide range of views that are held by people around the world and I think there are many aspects to it, the issues with AI models are not just at Google you see it across other models.”

AI Improves Search (Not Replaces It)

Near the end of the discussion, Sundar describes AI as a technology that improves current technologies (and not as something that replaces them). This too is an important point to consider when thinking about how AI will impact search and SEO.

His explanation of how AI improves but not necessarily replaces:

“…of course as a company you want to make sure you’re capitalizing on those innovations and building successful products, businesses, but I think we’ve long demonstrated that we can do it. The thing that excites me about AI is it’s the same underlying piece of technology for the first time in our history we have one leveraged piece of technology which can improve search, can improve YouTube, can improve Waymo and we put it all as cloud to our customers outside and so I feel good about that.”

Takeaways

There was a lot of important information in this interview that provides the most comprehensive picture of what the state of search will look like in the future.

Some of the important points:

  • AI is not new. It’s been a part of Google for many years now.
  • Google has provided answers and summaries for years
  • Websites are important to search
  • SGE is not a chatbot experience, it’s a search experience
  • Search and chatbots are two different things
  • AI improves search (not replaces it)

Watch the interview at the 1 hour 17 minute mark:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/photosince

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