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Google reportedly considers paywall for enhanced AI-powered search capabilities

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Google reportedly considers paywall for enhanced AI-powered search capabilities

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Google is exploring the idea of introducing “premium” features powered by generative AI to its search engine. This potential shift, as per The Financial Times, marks the first time Google would place AI-generated elements of its core search functionality behind a paywall, signaling a significant pivot from its traditional ad-supported model.

For nearly two decades, Google has dominated the search engine market, providing free access to information while generating revenue through advertisements. However, the advent of generative AI technologies, epitomized by the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, has prompted Google to reconsider its strategy. ChatGPT’s ability to deliver concise, complete answers poses a direct challenge to the conventional search engine format, which relies on directing users to external websites, including those of advertisers.

Google’s response to this competitive pressure has been twofold. The company began testing an AI-powered search service that offers more detailed answers to user queries while maintaining the traditional model of presenting links and advertisements. This “Search Generative Experience” (SGE), still in an experimental phase, leverages AI to provide “AI-powered snapshots” of information, a process that demands significantly more computing resources than standard search responses.

The introduction of premium, AI-enhanced search features would be incorporated into Google’s existing subscription services, such as the Google One bundle, which already includes access to the Gemini AI assistant in Gmail and Docs. This approach would maintain the free availability of Google’s traditional search engine and advertisement display, thus preserving its primary revenue stream while offering enhanced services to those willing to pay.

Google’s deliberation over premium AI search features occurs in a broader context of technological evolution and market competition. Microsoft, through its partnership with OpenAI, has already integrated GPT-powered search capabilities and the chatbot Copilot into its Bing search engine. Despite these advancements, Bing’s market share remains significantly lower than Google’s, underscoring the challenge of transforming AI capabilities into market dominance.

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