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Google Search adds a “web” filter, because it is no longer focused on web results

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Enlarge / Google continues to change what it means to be the “Google” search engine. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Google I/O has come and gone, and with it came an almost exclusive focus on AI. Part of the show was an announcement for Google Search that was so huge it was almost hard to believe: the AI-powered “Search Generative Experience (SGE)” that the company had been trialing for months is rolling out to everyone in the US. The feature, renamed “AI Overview,” is here now, and it feels like the biggest change to Google Search ever. The top of many results (especially questions) are now dominated by an AI box that scrapes the web and gives you a sometimes-correct summary without needing to click on a single result.

AI Overview is a bit different from the SGE trials that were happening. First is that AI Overview is a lot faster than SGE. For some popular queries, it seems like Google is caching the AI answer, which should help with the high cost of running generative AI. For queries with cached overviews, you’ll see the AI box load instantly, right along with the initial search results pop-in. SGE responses would come in word by word, like they are being typed by a person. When you aren’t getting a cached result, you’ll see a blank AI overview box that loads in with the search page, which will say “searching” while it loads for a second or two. Other times Google will try loading an AI Overview and fail, with the message “An AI overview is not available for this search.” (As if anyone asked.)

When Google decides you’ve got an AI-appropriate query, it now takes a lot of scrolling to see web results. Google scrolls infinitely, so there are no “pages” anymore, but let’s consider a “page” to be a full browser viewport height: The first page is an AI overview that takes up half the screen and then another answer box extracted from some website. Page two is a “People also ask” box suggesting other queries, then one search result, then a box for videos. Page three is the bottom half of the video box, then a “Discussions and forums” section with Reddit and Quora posts. It’s not until page four and miles of scrolling that we get the traditional 10 blue links. This list isn’t even counting an ad block, which would appear first normally. I’ve yet to see an ad block and AI overview at the same time, but I’m sure that’s coming. Despite pushing AI Overviews live into production for everyone on the most premium spot on the Google Search page, Google still notes that “Generative AI is experimental.”

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