As Google digs deeper into AI, publishers see new challenges

NEW YORK, Oct 19 (Reuters) – You may never have to read another news story in your life, if you have artificial intelligence that can absorb all the information on the Internet and provide a summary on demand.

This is the stuff of nightmares for media barons, as Google (GOOGL.O) and others experiment with so-called generative artificial intelligence, which creates new content drawn from past data.

Since May, Google has been rolling out a new form of search powered by generative AI, after industry observers questioned the future tech giant’s importance in providing consumers with information following the emergence of OpenAI’s query-answering software, ChatGPT.

The product, called Search Generative Experience (SGE), uses artificial intelligence to generate summaries in response to certain search queries, which are triggered based on whether Google’s system determines that the format will be useful. These summaries appear at the top of the Google search home page, with links to “dive deeper,” according to Google’s overview of SGE.

If publishers want to prevent their content from being used by Google’s AI to help create those summaries, they must use the same tool that would also prevent them from appearing in Google search results, making them nearly invisible on the web.

For example, a search for “Who is John Fosse” – a recent Nobel Prize winner in Literature – will generate three paragraphs about the writer and his works. Drop-down buttons provide links to Fosse content on Wikipedia, NPR, The New York Times, and other websites; Additional links appear to the right of the summary.

Google says the AI-generated overviews are compiled from multiple web pages and that the links are designed to be a starting point for learning more. He describes SGE as an optional experience for users, to help them develop and improve the product, while including feedback from news publishers and others.

For publishers, the new search tool is the latest red flag in a decades-long relationship as they have struggled to compete against Google for online advertising and relied on the tech giant for search traffic.

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The still-in-development product — which is now available in the United States, India and Japan — has raised concerns among publishers as they try to figure out their place in a world where artificial intelligence could dominate how users find and pay for information, according to four major publishers. Who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity to avoid complicating the ongoing negotiations with Google.

These concerns relate to web traffic, whether publishers will be considered the source of information that appears in SGE summaries, and the accuracy of those summaries, these publishers say. More importantly, publishers want to be compensated for the content that Google and other AI companies train their AI tools on — a major sticking point around AI.

“As we bring AI into search, we continue to prioritize methods that send valuable traffic to a wide range of creators, including news publishers, to support a healthy, open web,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Regarding compensation, Google says it is working to develop a better understanding of the business model for generative AI applications and getting input from publishers and others.

In late September, Google announced a new tool called Google-Extending, which gives publishers the option to prevent their content from being used by Google to train its AI models.

Giving publishers the option not to crawl AI is a “gesture of good faith,” said Danielle Coffey, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, an industry trade group that lobbies Congress on these issues. “Whether payments will follow is a question mark, and to what extent there will be openness to a healthier value exchange.”

The new tool allows publishers to block their content from being crawled by SGE, whether the summaries or the links that appear with them, without them disappearing from traditional Google search.

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Publishers want clicks to secure advertisers, and appearing in Google search is key to their business. SGE’s design pushed links that appear in traditional search further down the page, with the potential to reduce traffic to those links by up to 40%, according to a publisher executive.

Even more troubling is the possibility that web surfers will avoid clicking on any of the links if the SGE clip satisfies users’ need for information – satisfied, for example, with knowing the best time of year to go to Paris, without having to click to a travel publishing site.

SGE “is definitely going to reduce organic traffic for publishers, and they’re going to have to think about a different way to measure the value of that content, if not CTR,” said Nikhil Lai, senior research analyst at Forrester Research. However, he believes that publishers’ reputations will remain strong as a result of the visibility of their links to SGE.

Google says it designed SGE to highlight web content. “Any estimates about specific traffic impacts are speculative and not representative, as what you see today at SGE may look very different from what is eventually released more broadly in research,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

While publishers and other industries have spent decades tweaking their websites to appear more prominently in traditional Google search, they don’t have enough information to do the same for new SGE summaries, these publishers say.

“The new AI department is a black box for us,” said one publisher executive. “We don’t know how to be sure we’re part of it or the algorithm behind it.”

Google said publishers don’t need to do anything different than they were doing to appear in search.

Publishers have long allowed Google to “crawl” their content for the purposes of appearing in search results — using a bot, or software, to automatically scan and index it. “Crawling” is how Google indexes the web to show content in search.

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Publishers’ concerns about SGE boil down to a key point: They say that Google crawls their content, for free, to create summaries that users can read instead of clicking on their links, and that Google hasn’t been clear about how it blocks content from being crawled by SGE. .

One publisher said Google’s new search tool “poses a greater threat to us and our business than a crawler that illegally crawls our business.”

Google did not comment on this evaluation.

When this option is available, websites block their content’s use of AI if it does not impact search, according to exclusive data from AI content detector Originality.ai. Since its release on August 7, 27.4% of top websites have blocked the ChatGPT bot — including The New York Times and The Washington Post. This compares to the 6% who have been blocking Google-Extending since its release on September 28.

Reported by Helen Koster. Edited by Kenneth Lee and Claudia Parsons

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Helen Koster is a media correspondent at Reuters, where she writes a mix of spot news, project stories and analysis. She was previously a senior editor on the commentary team at Reuters, where she assigned, edited and wrote analytical articles. Before joining Reuters, Koster served as a senior writer at Forbes, where she wrote stories for magazines, the web, and blogged about the intersection of business and social issues. A graduate of Princeton University, she has reported from six countries, including Pakistan, India and Greece. Contact: 9178417220

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