Google Expands AI-Powered Search Test To UK Users

Google has begun testing AI-powered search summaries for selected, signed-in users in the UK, nearly a year after it began trialling the feature in the US.

The search summaries, which the search giant calls Search Generative Experience (SGE), provide an “overview” of search results.

They are being shown to a small proportion of users who are logged into their accounts, and only for certain queries where Google believes the feature provides particular benefits for users.

The firm launched SGE at its I/O developer conference in May of last year, initially as a Google Labs experiment shown to US users who opted into it.

A sample Search Generative Experience result. Image credit: Google

AI expansion

Last month the company began showing the results to a small proportion of US logged-in users who had not specifically opted into SGE.

It is now expanding a similar trial to the UK.

The cautious introduction of generative AI features comes in response to OpenAI’s wildly popular ChatGPT, which launched in November 2022, and which could threaten Google’s core business model by making standard online searches obsolete.

Making changes to how search works is a delicate matter for Google, and website operators and advertisers are also concerned that the expansion of AI summaries could mean fewer users clicking through to sites via results or ads.

The results include a prominent notice warning that generative AI is “experimental”.

Such summaries are already offered on the Bing search engine, powered by OpenAI technology under a deal with Microsoft, as well as on other popular sites including Quora.

Image credit: Google

False information

Another concern is that generative AI systems are known to regularly offer false or inaccurate information, a problem no company has yet solved.

AI-powered results are also far more expensive for Google to provide, as they require significant computing power at the back-end and a corresponding increase in power consumption.

Google is considering offering the the AI summaries as part of its Google One paid subscription service rather than adding it directly to its main search results, the Financial Times reported last week.

While no final decision has been made, such a move would be the first time Google has offered a search feature under its paid model.

Paid search

Ads would continue to be shown on the paid search results, and the search giant said it is  not considering offering ad-free search.

Google One provides features such as expanded cloud storage, and in February Google added a new AI Premium pricing tier that gives access to Google’s Gemini Advanced generative AI and Gemini features in Gmail, Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Meet.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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