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Google plans radical search overhaul to beat AI rivals

Google employees were shocked in March when they learned that South Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung was considering replacing Google with Microsoft’s Bing as the default search engine on its devices.

For years, Bing was a search engine. But recently it became much more interesting to industry insiders when it added new artificial intelligence technology.

Google’s response to the Samsung threat was “panic,” according to internal messages reviewed by The New York Times. An estimated $3 billion in annual revenue was at stake with the Samsung deal. An additional $20 billion is tied to a similar Apple contract that is up for renewal this year.

AI competitors like the new Bing are fast becoming the most serious threat to Google’s search business in 25 years, and in response, Google is racing to build an entirely new search engine powered by the technology. It is also upgrading an existing one with AI features, according to internal documents reviewed by The Times.

New features are being developed by designers, engineers and executives working in so-called sprint rooms to test the latest versions, under the project name Maggi. The new search engine will provide a much more personalized experience than the company’s current service by trying to anticipate users’ needs.

Lara Levine, a Google spokeswoman, said in a statement that “not every brainstorm deck or product idea leads to a launch, but as we’ve said before, we’re excited about bringing new AI-powered features to Search, and will share more details soon.” “

Billions of people use Google’s search engine every day for everything from finding restaurants and directions to understanding medical diagnoses, and the white page with the company logo and a blank bar in the middle is one of the most used web pages in the world. . Changes to it will have a significant impact on ordinary people’s lives, and until recently it was difficult to imagine anything challenging it.

Google has been concerned about AI-powered competitors since OpenAI, a San Francisco start-up working with Microsoft, demonstrated a chatbot called ChatGPT in November. About two weeks later, Google created a task force in its search division to begin building AI products, said two people with knowledge of the effort, who were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Modernizing its search engine has become an obsession at Google, and the planned changes could put new AI technology into phones and homes around the world.

The Samsung threat represents the first potential crack in Google’s seemingly impenetrable search business, which was worth $162 billion last year. While it wasn’t clear whether Microsoft’s work with AI was the main reason Samsung considered a change after 12 years, that was the speculation inside Google. The deal is under negotiation and Samsung may stick with Google.

But the idea that Samsung, which makes millions of smartphones each year running Google’s Android software, would even change the search engine has shocked Google employees.

After some employees were told that the company was looking for volunteers this month to help assemble components for a pitch to Samsung, they responded with emojis and surprise. “Wow, okay, that’s wild,” one person responded.

A Google spokesperson said the company is constantly improving its search engine to give partners more reasons to choose Google, and that Android phone makers are free to adopt technologies from different companies to improve their users’ experience.

Samsung and Microsoft declined to comment.

Google has been researching AI for years. Its DeepMind lab in London is considered one of the best AI research centers in the world, and the company has been a pioneer with AI projects, such as self-driving cars and so-called large language models used to develop chatbots. In recent years, Google has used large languages ​​to improve the quality of its search results. Models have been used, but AI has stopped being fully adopted because it tends to produce false and biased statements.

The priority now is to win control of the next big thing in the industry. Last month, Google released its own chatbot, Bird, but the technology received mixed reviews.

Plans for the new search engine, which demonstrate Google’s ambition to reimagine the search experience, are still in the early stages, with no clear timetable for when it will release new search technology.

Users will learn what the system wants to know based on what they are searching for when they start using it And it will provide the list of preselected options for the object to buy, research information and other information. It will be more conversational – a bit like chatting with a helpful person.

But long before the search engine is rebuilt, the Magee project will add features to existing search engines, according to internal documents. More than 160 people work full-time at Google, said a person with knowledge of the job.

Magi would place ads in the mix of search results. Search queries that might lead to financial transactions like buying shoes or booking a flight, for example, will still show ads on their results pages.

This is important for Google, as search ads are the primary way to make money. Its chatbot, Bird, does not feature ads, and the tech industry expects AI answers in search engines to make ads less relevant to users.

Designed search additions can answer questions about software coding and write code based on user requests. According to a document, Google may place an ad under computer code answers.

Last week, Google invited some employees to test out Maggie’s features, and it encouraged the search engine to ask follow-up questions to judge its ability to hold conversations. Google is expected to release the tools to the public next month and add more features in the fall, according to planning documents.

The company initially plans to release the features to a maximum of one million people. This number should gradually increase to 30 million by the end of the year. The features will be available exclusively in the US

Google also explored Google’s efforts to use Google Earth’s mapping technology with AI and search for music through conversations with a chatbot, a Google executive wrote in a document.

Other product concepts are in various stages of development. A tool called GIFI will use AI to generate images in Google Image results. Another tool, Tivoli Tutor, will teach users a new language through open-ended AI text conversations.

Yet another product, Searchalong, lets users ask a chatbot questions while surfing the web through Google’s Chrome browser. People can ask the chatbot for activity around an Airbnb rental, for example, and the AI ​​will scan the page and the rest of the Internet for responses.

Jim Lekinski, the former Google vice president of sales and services, said the company was eager to act and now needed to convince users that it was “as powerful, competent and contemporary” as its competitors.

“If we’re the leading search engine and it’s a new feature, a new feature, a new feature of search engines, we want to make sure we’re in the running,” Mr. Leckinski, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University, said in an interview.

Daisuke Wakabayashi, Karen Weiss And Trip missed Contribution reporting.

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