Google Unleashes AI Search Results in Preview


Google announced several experimental search features at Google I/O earlier this month, and now it’s opening up access to them in the new Search Labs. Naturally, the search experiments are based on generative AI, which Google has focused on since its disastrous Bard demo in February. Front and center in the Search Lab is the SGE (Search Generative Experience), and like it or not, this could be the future of finding information on the internet.

The SGE is available on both mobile and desktop for those who have opted in. When enabled, the SGE will consider all your search queries and insert a colorful box of AI-generated information at the top of your results. All those blue links we’ve been perusing since the advent of modern internet search are demoted to second-class status in favor of the generative AI box. However, Google makes sure to leave the shopping links above the fold.

It takes a few seconds for the text to appear, which can have the annoying side effect of moving the search results down at seemingly random moments. It’s even more confusing because some searches automatically engage the generative AI, but others ask you to click or tap to activate the SGE. If that were the only issue with SGE, Google would be in a good place, but the AI-powered search hasn’t been very useful in our testing.

SGE box with router information

This SGE box was generated for “best Wi-Fi 6e routers.” Credit: Google

This system works on the same underlying language model as Bard, and everyone is familiar with the frequent quirks that appear in such systems. Bard, ChatGPT, and all the similar AIs have a tendency to make things up and then justify those “hallucinations” when pressed. No one is sure how to prevent that yet, so the SGE is often less reliable than the first few links. Sometimes it’s also just redundant. For example, when searching for nearby pizza places, the SGE produces a less useful version of the “Places” card that already appears in search results.

Should you end up with a search where the AI is actually useful, Google provides an option to ask follow-up questions. This brings up an interface that looks almost identical to Bard, but Google doesn’t use that branding. Microsoft Bing also has conversational search via ChatGPT, but it’s available to everyone who goes to Bing rather than an experiment. It’s easy for Bing to make that kind of change, though. Despite years of effort from Microsoft, Bing commands a tiny fraction of the web traffic Google does. So, the way Google displays search results can literally change the internet. The SGE represents a complete reshaping of search results.

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