Home Internet How Google’s malfunctioning AI risks ruining the internet

How Google’s malfunctioning AI risks ruining the internet

Chief executive Sundar Pichai apologised after the bot also took a series of strange stances, such as refusing to condemn paedophilia and equating Elon Musk to Hitler. Microsoft has also given inaccurate AI-powered results in its search engine, Bing, which is powered by ChatGPT technology.

But Google is on a different scale.

The company has a search engine market share of more than 90pc, according to Statcounter. Google is the world’s most popular website – the default on iPhones and the Chrome browser. Its parent company, Alphabet, took in $175bn (£137bn) in sales last year, making it the world’s biggest billboard. That scale has pushed Google to bring down the server costs of delivering AI answers by 80pc, which critics suggest may have reduced the quality of answers.

Unlike other AI embarrassments, Google has not backtracked, perhaps because it knows it can never guarantee accuracy. It is also under pressure to plough ahead, fearing that AI rivals such as ChatGPT might eat its lunch if it does not push AI into its services.

“AI threatens search’s core proposition by being more efficient than the search process in many ways, but is currently less verifiably accurate,” says Claire Holubowskyj, of Enders Analysis. “Google is scrambling to find the right balance before a competitor disintermediates its hugely valuable search product.”

But Google changing how its search engine works has also led to fears about the future of the web.

For years, the company has had a loose, unwritten contract with web publishers such as news sites, forums and blogs: it would mine them for information, and in return the search engine would send millions of users their way. An AI that answers people’s questions directly has raised fears that clicks from Google will plummet, threatening the business models that support websites.

“This destroys the natural symbiosis of the web,” said James Rosewell, of Movement for an Open Web, a campaign group for the marketing industry. “If publishers can’t reach audiences they won’t create content – it’s that simple.

“Google is using its monopoly power to try and enclose the open web, but in doing so they threaten the very model on which the internet is built.”

Google has said that it will “remain focused on sending valuable traffic to publishers and creators” and that the AI results encourage users to “dig deeper” by following links.

The company has a vested interest in being right: if Google stops feeding the websites that depend on it, it might end up relying on increasingly low-quality data – and recommend doing worse than eating rocks.

 

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