Will Google AI Destroy Clickbait Publishers

Google will start using AI to “distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats” and potentially disrupt clickbait publishers.

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Early this year, Google teased a fundamental change to its core product, the search engine through which much of the world accesses the web. Soon, the company said, Google would start using AI to “distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats.” By May, the company had a real product to share.

For Google, it was an obvious and incremental feature update combining two of the company’s products: a text generator plugged into a search engine, basically. Searchers ask a question, and Google tries to answer it with short, article-style “snapshots.”

For publishers, however — of news, how-to content, reviews, recommendations, reference material, and a range of other content one might describe as existing to “distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats” — it looked like nothing less than an existential crisis. Google was getting into content, automating the work of its partners, and dramatically altering the terms of its informal deal with publishers that has sustained digital media for years: You make content; we send traffic; everyone sells ads. If this wasn’t a threat to journalism directly, it was certainly a threat to the journalism businessGoogle, it seemed, was eager to cut the publishers out.

It’s early, still, and AI search won’t threaten much of anything if it fundamentally doesn’t work, or if users don’t like it, which we’ll know soon enough. But it doesn’t have to be perfect, or even great, to dramatically alter the online economy. A stickier question is whether Google, possessed of a new capability to inflict massive harm on digital publishers and the web in general — and meanwhile battling very different firms for AI dominance — will decide, in the coming months, that it is in its own business interest to do so.

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In its current form, Google’s Search Generative Experience will answer a question about the debt ceiling with a lengthy attempt to summarize the news.

Up top, searchers get a 272-word summary of the news with a bit of background. Its citations, which are hidden behind a small button in the upper-right portion of the screen, include a consulting firm, a think tank, and a slew of news organizations, including the New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and NBC. Conventional search results are well beyond the bottom of the screen; on this issue, the information was accurate, though it’s still pretty easy to get tripped up.

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