Opinion

Google Does Not Know What to Do With Its AI, and It’s Sad to Watch

(Yet?)

Yesterday at Google I/O – an event already overshadowed by OpenAI’s unveiling of GPT-4o – it was really weird seeing Google act like a confused salesman trying to get you to checkout their merchandise. I am sure the whole world could see the confusion, and the “please consider us too” sort of tone that was on stage.

Thing is, for many years, people speculated that Google would dominate the artificial intelligence race. They were the largest search engine and the company everyone aspired to work for. But then, they were bombarded with competition on all their fronts. They fell behind in the social media sphere, lost the battle for short video and user attention to TikTok, and saw diminished trust in Android as they competed with other manufacturers. They kept launching and killing products left and right, appearing desperate. Then boom OpenAI landed with ChatGPT and everyone was looking at Google like – “This is what you were supposed to be!”

Google talked about DeepMind from as early as 2014 if I am not wrong. I was in second year of university. It was a huge thing seeing the things AI – which my lecturers used to present as a ‘thing of the future’ – being demonstrated as a reality by a search engine leader. It was exciting to think about the potential of AI and the power Google could wield in implementing personalised solutions.

So, how did they end up with the presentation we saw at yesterday’s I/O keynote?

Google Does Not Know What to Do With Its AI, and It's Sad to Watch
There was a weird DJ set on Google I/O. On X/Twitter, people have been comparing Google to Hooli (HBO Silicon Valley)

It boils down to the current frenzy to capitalise on AI. Every company wants a slice of what is perceived to be the future. They aim to lead the pack, boosting investor confidence and attracting more funding, often without considering the associated risks. There is no clear target or goal for AI deployment; it’s akin to a farmer scattering seeds randomly and waiting to see what grows. This rush to be seen as innovative, regardless of whether the efforts are helpful or profitable, I fear might even lead to the development of harmful AI technologies. Yesterday, Google was so confidently mentioning “AGI” on stage.

This rush is why all you could hear is AI this, AI that. Google is bringing its AI to everything from Search (its money maker), to Gmail, to Android, to Google Photos, to everything else. If, like me, you found the examples laughable and are skeptical about their practical use or concerned about privacy issues, just wait to see how many of these initiatives end up in the “Google Graveyard” at killedbygoogle.com.

Google needs to rethink its approach. While “Gemini” is a catchy name, the confusion at I/O was palpable. It was unclear which messages were intended for developers versus enterprises or general consumers. What exactly is Gemini—1.5 Pro, what is Advanced? This confusion has been a consistent issue with Google’s product strategy. Products function well initially, only to be renamed confusingly or discontinued. Just ask someone about Google Workspace or their enterprise solutions to see the prevailing confusion, which now extends to their AI offerings. They could simplify everything under the “Assistant” brand, but instead, we face unnecessary complexity.

I know this is only just the beginning of an AI future. And I am sure Google has a huge stake in that future. But they need to act more confident. They need to have a serious goal and overall view of what they’re trying to build.

When Apple concludes WWDC 2024, I believe we will see a stark contrast in their approach. Products intended for developers will be distinctly named, while consumer-facing products will retain simple, familiar names. Remember, there is talk that Apple will be using both OpenAI and Google-built solutions. But as you’ll see, there will be no confusion as to what is what. Hopefully…?

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