Google dusts off the failed Google+ playbook to fight ChatGPT

Enlarge / Google’s integration monster emerges with a new face.

Years ago, around 2011, Google was in a panic. Facebook was on the rise, and Google was convinced that the social network would soon swallow it all up. To fight this blue scourge, the then CEO of Google, Larry Page, issued a decree to many of his employees: Your bonuses are now linked to Google’s success in social networks! Build social features into everything! That memo resulted in a lot of clunky social integrations at Google that were widely hated by the user base. YouTube comments were linked to Google+ and the site was awash in spam. Creating a new Gmail address also required creating a Google+ account. Google Search had little “+1” buttons, and generally anonymous use of Google products was impossible due to the “real name” policy. And that’s just the Google+ stuff: Previously, this memo resulted in the creation of a social network in Gmail called “Google Buzz” that all users were initially forced to join.

That forced integration strategy was an abject failure, and after a few years of social panic from Google, all Google+ integrations were removed and the service eventually shut down. That past failure isn’t stopping Google from pulling out that loser playbook for its next big panic: Bloomberg’s Julia Love and Davey Alba report that Google wants to incorporate ChatGPT-style features into everything. According to the article, Google issued “a directive that all of its major products, those with more than a billion users, must incorporate generative AI within a few months.”

We wrote last month that Google’s ChatGPT panic sounded a lot like its response to Google+, and several employees conveyed that same sentiment to Bloomberg. As with G+, the report added that “current and former employees say at least some Googlers’ ratings and reviews are likely to be influenced by their ability to integrate generative AI into their work.”

AI is one of the few areas at Google that CEO Sundar Pichai is really involved in, with the CEO saying the technology would be “deeper than fire or electricity.” Google was, for years, a leader in artificial intelligence with voice recognition features like the Google Assistant, speech synthesis features like Google Duplex, and mastery of the game of Go. Those features debuted years ago, though, and the fear of releasing flawed products has meant Google stashes a lot of technology in a lab somewhere. OpenAI is not so afraid of bringing the latest in AI technology to the masses. While Google publishes research papers, OpenAI publishes products-and the company’s generative AI OpenGPT chat has led to a stratospheric rise for OpenAI. The chatbot is already integrated into Bing, and the initial novelty has earned Bing 100 million daily active users in its first month. Google is no longer seen as a leader in artificial intelligence and is being punished by the stock market for it.

In a 2021 New York Times article criticizing Pichai’s management style, “A common criticism among current and former executives is that Mr. Pichai’s slow deliberations often feel like playing it safe and come to a ‘no'”. Despite many seeing Pichai as the source of Google’s reluctance, the Bloomberg report says the CEO is now taking a more hands-on approach to product development, saying: “The effort sees Pichai relive his days as a manager.” as he has been weighing directly into the details of product features, a task that would typically be well below his salary level, according to a former employee.”

As for what exactly these forced AI integrations will look like, the report cites a recent YouTube feature that would allow people to virtually swap outfits. In Alphabet’s Q4 2022 earnings call, Pichai said the company was “working to bring great language models to Gmail and Docs,” so he expects to be able to click some buttons soon and have those apps generate text blocks. The Bloomberg article quotes a Google employee as saying, “We’re throwing spaghetti against the wall, but it’s not even close to what it takes to transform the company and be competitive.”

Tech – Ars Technica

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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