Google's Sundar Pichai presented his AI roadmap.

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Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai says artificial intelligence has been a key focus of parent Google since 2016, when OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, was in its infancy. After all, Google researchers invented the “T” in GPT (as in generative pre-trend transformer). This was an important innovation that made conversational search possible using large language models.

Somehow, though, Google missed the big chatbot moment and has been playing catch-up ever since. But Pichai, who sat down for an exclusive interview with “The Circuit with Emily Chang,” doesn't seem worried. “We weren't the first company to do search. We weren't the first company to do e-mail. We weren't the first company to make browsers,” he says. “So I look at this AI as we're in the earliest possible stages.”

In other words, Pichai is playing the long game, and says Google — which dominates key real estate on the Web — has plenty of time to win.

Google's effort to reclaim the AI ​​microphone has encountered more than a few hiccups, however. When the company unveiled its Gemini image generator in February, users quickly noticed vulnerabilities. Requests for photographs of historical scenes yielded strange images of Asian Nazis and black American Founding Fathers. The company's attempt to ensure that its AI systems don't retain human biases apparently backfired.

“We got it wrong,” says Pichai, 51, who claims the incident was a matter of good intentions. Google immediately shut down Gemini's image generation feature to the public, with Pichai ordering a complete rebuild. “From the ground up we're retraining these models, just to make sure we're improving the product as well,” he says. “As soon as it's ready, we'll roll it out to people.” He predicts that the feature will be released again in a few weeks.

Still, the future of search — and whether Google will continue to dominate the space — remains unclear. This weekPichai is scheduled to share his vision for the company's future at Google I/O, the company's annual developers conference. But in his interview with “The Circuit,” he gave a preview.

Are we nearing the end of these “10 blue links,” as some pundits have predicted, as more conversational results from ChatGPT, Anthropic's Claude and other chatbots become more mainstream? Pichai says the best form of search would include descriptive answers and links to other websites to find out more.

“My son is celiac, so we did a quick query to see if anything was gluten-free,” Pichai says. Often the search for a question “leads to more things and then you want to explore more.” He says that meeting the different needs of the searcher is what makes Google unique.

Optimizing search is vital to Google's future, as ads placed in search results generate $300 billion in annual revenue for Alphabet. “We've always found that people want choice, including in commercial areas, and that's a basic need,” explains Pichai. “We're experimenting with advertising and the data we see shows that those fundamentals will hold true.”

It is also at the center of a landmark antitrust lawsuit in which the US Department of Justice has accused Google of abusing its market power to illegally maintain a monopoly over online search and related advertising. Is. A federal judge is expected to rule on the case this year, and his ruling could have far-reaching consequences for Alphabet's business and beyond.

But if Pichai is worried about the alphabet being broken, he doesn't show it. “People are trying to solve problems in their everyday lives,” he says. “Many of our products integrate in a way that provides value for our customers.” The way Google is approaching AI “drives innovation, adds choice to the market,” he says. “That's how I think about it.”

In the meantime, Google will need to clear many hurdles to reach its AI future. An increasing amount of AI-generated content is appearing on the Internet, and all search engines will have to figure out how to track, rank, and surface it for users — or not. For example, last year Google's algorithm inadvertently made an AI-generated “selfie” its top image for searches of “Tank Man,” the Chinese man who famously walked out of Tiananmen Square in 1989. Was standing in front of the tanks. Google took this image down from its knowledge graph. and knowledge panels, but not before he momentarily gave people a new twist in history.

“The challenge and the opportunity for everyone is this: How do you figure out what's objective and real in a world where there's so much artificial content?” Pichai asks. “I think that's part of what will define the search over the next decade.”

Generative AI is developing so fast that it will soon run out of content for the big language models that are sponging up information on the Internet. This will lead to a situation where models are turning to AI-generated data for training.

But there are ways in which models trained on artificial data can lead to useful research advances, Pichai says. For example, Google created AlphaGo, its AI system trained to master the Japanese board game Go, in part by allowing computer programs to play with each other. “On the field, you call it the game itself,” says Pichai. “Over time, there's been this notion of, can you make models output to learn other models? These are all research areas now.

Amid all the strategic challenges facing Alphabet, Pichai also faces some skepticism from within Google's ranks. Current and former employees have criticized his leadership style as too cautious and consensual, with Google ceding the lead in AI to ChatGPT, at least initially.

“The reality I think is quite different,” argued Pichai. “I think the bigger the company, the less consequential decisions you're making, but they need to be clear and you have to signal it to the whole company.” Building consensus is important because “that's what allows you to put the most influence behind those decisions,” he says.

Pichai has recently taken several steps — including layoffs — to streamline the business to focus more on AI. Alphabet has gone through several rounds of cuts across divisions, including hardware, engineering and the Google Assistant team.

Last month, Google also fired dozens of engineers who protested the company's cloud contract with the Israeli government, in what Pichai described as an unacceptable disruption to day-to-day business. “It has nothing to do with the issue or the topic they're discussing. It's about the behavior of how they went about it,” he says. “I see, especially in this moment with AI, the opportunity before us is enormous, but it requires a real focus on our mission.”

Microsoft, with its big investments in AI startups like OpenAI, Inflection and Mistral AI, has emerged as Alphabet's biggest competitor in the most frenetic tech cycle since the dot-com boom. Both are trying to win the AI ​​race, realizing that the technology holds the key to the future of search — which is essential to the future of AI.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also has some fighting words for Google. During a U.S. antitrust trial, Nadella testified that Google's exclusive, multibillion-dollar deals with the likes of Apple essentially shut out Microsoft's Bing by default on smartphones and browsers. Nadella argued that Google has been able to improve its search engine because, by default, it receives more user queries, which in turn produces better search results.

In the meantime, Pichai says he's trying to stay focused and not “on somebody else's dance music.”

“People focus on that micro-moment, but it's much smaller in the future,” says Pichai. “When I look at the opportunities ahead, in what we do, I put a lot of chips, at least from my perspective, on Google.”

With help from Lauren Ellis, Julia Low and Davy Alba

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