May 28, 2023

Google is working on an AI-powered search engine, code named Magi, according to a report from The New York Times on Sunday.

Magi aims to offer you a “more personalized experience” and to “anticipate” your needs, according to the Times. Like ChatGPT, it would aim to be conversational. And it would populate ads, the main way Google makes money. The project is still in early stages, with no release date set, but it will make tools available to the public next month, the Times reported.

“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,” said Lara Levin, a Google spokesperson.

Google pointed out it’s been integrating AI into Google Search for years, improving products such as Lens and Multisearch.

Other products reportedly in development include an AI image generator named GIFI and a language teaching tool called Tivoli Tutor.

The sprint to create a new search engine product comes as Samsung began considering switching to Bing as the default search engine on its Android devices, such as the Galaxy-line of phones, according to the Times. While it’s uncertain why Samsung is considering the shift, it could be linked to Bing search queries being powered by AI. Google brings in an estimated $3 billion in revenue from the Samsung contract, according to the Times. Following the report, Google’s shares fell 4% on Monday.

Microsoft and Samsung didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The online search market is shifting rapidly. ChatGPT, an AI-powered large language model launched last year, caught instant fire for its ability to answer seemingly any question in human-like conversational language. Unlike a traditional Google or Bing search, which populates a list of relevant website links, ChatGPT could give people novel answers. From writing an essay on why carrot cake is better than chocolate cake to a poem about the video game Crazy Taxi, ChatGPT consistently gives convincing answers. Microsoft quickly expanded its partnership with ChatGPT maker OpenAI, integrating the tech into its Bing search engine. Not to be outdone, Google released Bard, its own AI conversation engine, although it stumbled at the launch.

Of the three chatbots, ChatGPT remains the superior experience, whereas Bard falls short.

AI chatbots pose a serious threat to Google’s core business model, which is selling ads on your search queries. If you stop looking to traditional search engines and prefer to ask a chatbot to answer questions directly, that means you’re doing less Googling and visiting websites. Many webpages often have ads placed by Google as well. 

Google remains the world’s most popular search engine, with 93% market share. The search giant made $224 billion last year from advertising alone, or 79% of its total revenues.

That’s not to say chatbot tech is new to Google. The company has been working on its own large language models for years but has been slow to roll it out, citing concerns over bias and accuracy. More cynical observers, like the US Department of Justice, said in federal court earlier this month that Google’s search monopoly potentially delayed the release of AI-powered chatbots.

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