Google dusts off failed Google+ playbook to fight ChatGPT – Ars Technica

Enlarge / The Google integration monster rises with a new face.

Many 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 everything. To combat this blue plague, then Google boss Larry Page issued a decree to his many employees: Your bonuses are now linked to Google’s success in the social field! Build social features into everything! That memo resulted in a lot of dodgy social integrations across Google that were widely hated by the user base. YouTube comments were linked to Google+ and the site was flooded with spam. Creating a new Gmail address also required creating a Google+ account. Google Search got little “+1” buttons, and generally anonymous use of Google products was impossible due to the “real name” policy. And that’s just Google+ stuff – previously this memo resulted in a social network being built into Gmail called “Google Buzz” that all users were initially forced to join.

The forced integration strategy was an abject failure, and after a few years of Google’s social panic, all of Google+’s integrations were removed and the service was eventually shut down. That past failure isn’t stopping Google from pulling out the lost playbook for its next big bang: Bloomberg’s Julia Love and Davey Alba report that Google wants to build ChatGPT-like 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 months.”
We wrote last month that Google’s ChatGPT panic was similar to its reaction to Google+, and several employees relayed the same sentiment to Bloomberg. As with G+, the report added that “current and former employees say that at least some Googlers’ ratings and reviews are likely to be affected by their ability to integrate generative AI into their work.”
AI is one of the few areas of Google that CEO Sundar Pichai is really investing in, with the CEO saying the technology would be “more profound than fire or electricity.” For years, Google was a leader in artificial intelligence with voice recognition features like Google Assistant, speech synthesis features like Google Duplex, and game mastery Go. These features debuted years ago, and a fear of rolling out imperfect products has meant Google locks a lot of technology away in a lab somewhere. OpenAI has no such fear of pushing the latest in AI technology to the masses. While Google publishes research papers, OpenAI publishes Products-and the company’s generative chat AI OpenGPT has led to a stratospheric rise for OpenAI. The chatbot is already built into Bing, and the first news has given Bing 100 million daily active users in its first month. Google is no longer seen as an AI leader, and it is being punished by the stock market for it.
In a 2021 New York Times article critical of Pichai’s management style, “A common criticism among current and former executives is that Mr. Pichai’s slow deliberation often feels like a way to play it safe and arrive at a ‘no’.” Many see 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 has Pichai reliving his days as a product manager as he begins to weigh in. directly on the details of product features, a task that would normally fall well below his pay grade, according to a former employee.”
As for exactly what these forced AI integrations will look like, the report cites a recent YouTube feature that would let people virtually swap clothes. In Alphabet’s Q4 2022 earnings call, Pichai said the company was “working to bring large language models to Gmail and Docs,” so expect to be able to click a few buttons soon and have those apps generate blocks of text. The Bloomberg article quotes a Google employee as saying, “We’re throwing spaghetti at the wall, but it’s not even close to what’s needed to transform the company and be competitive.”

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