Google Search gets biggest overhaul in years with new generative AI features

Google (GOOG, GOOGL) on Tuesday announced some of the biggest changes to its Search product in years, rolling out generative AI features to offer more complete and direct answers to queries.

The company will roll out its generative AI updates to US users beginning today and more than a billion people worldwide by the end of the year.

The announcement, as part of Google’s I/O developer conference, brings a new look to Search via its AI Overview. The feature provides a brief, AI-generated answer to searches, coupled with a series of links to the sources cited in the response.

An example of a search with AI Overview. (Image: Google) (Google)

Google is also working on answering more complex answers via an update in Search Labs — which offers users the ability to test upcoming capabilities. The company says you’ll be able to search for a yoga or Pilates studio in Boston that offers discounts to new members and how far it is from Beacon Hill, and Search will provide an answer without you having to perform multiple searches. It will also allow you to do things like look for meal plans for a group or put together a vacation itinerary.

There is also a new video search option coming to Search Labs, which enables users to take a video and use it as a search prompt.

In one example, the company says a user dealing with a problem related to a record player arm would be able to take a video of the issue, and Search would be able to provide an AI Overview explanation of the malfunction and how to address it.

But don’t expect this multistep or video search to be available today. Google said it’s coming to its Search Labs soon and will only be available for English queries in the US for now.

A multistep search using Google’s new generative AI features. (Image: Google) (Google)

I’ve been using AI Overview, and it’s been a helpful addition to Search, whether I was looking for information about obscure video games from the 1990s or about how to treat a foot injury.

All of these functions come as part of Google’s effort to push generative AI across its massive ecosystem of products including Android, YouTube, Gmail, and more.

Google is the world leader in search, with Statcounter indicating the company controls 91% of the market compared to rival Microsoft (MSFT) Bing’s roughly 4%.

Google’s Search is responsible for a vast amount of the company’s advertising revenue, and any changes to its formula could impact advertiser spending. In 2023, Google’s Search & other business segments drove $175 billion of the company’s $307 billion in total revenue.

The company is also staring down increased competition from Amazon (AMZN), which saw advertising revenue jump 24% year over year to $47 billion in 2023 from $38 billion in 2022.

Still, there remain rumblings that ChatGPT developer OpenAI is working on a search offering of its own. On Monday, OpenAI garnered headlines after showing off its latest features from GPT-4o, including new translation capabilities.

It’s far from clear whether an OpenAI search engine would be able to pull away users from Google.

Bing, for instance, hasn’t been able to make much of a dent in the company’s market share despite adding its own generative AI features.

But ChatGPT is a popular tool and the brand name most associated with AI; if OpenAI manages to add the right mix of functionality and usability to this product, it could have Google sweating.

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Email Daniel Howley at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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