Google’s search dominance made it complacent—until now

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Slowly, some flesh is starting to appear on the bones of Google’s plan to integrate generative artificial intelligence into its core search business. According to a New York Times report Monday, the company isn’t just planning to A.I.-ify the Google Search we all know, but is also working on an entirely new, A.I.-powered search engine that attempts to “anticipate users’ needs”—with both initiatives taking place under the banner of “Project Magi.”

As ever, more details are promised soon—probably at next month’s Google I/O developer shindig, given the reported timing of the public starting to gain access to the revamped Google Search. But for now, there’s another big takeaway to be found in there, regarding the sense of panic within Google over the speed at which the generative A.I. revolution is taking place.

We’ve had a glimpse of this before. After ChatGPT’s seminal launch last year, it was reported that someone in Google management declared a “code red” owing to the implications for search rivalry—CEO Sundar Pichai subsequently said he wasn’t the one to deploy that phrase, but he didn’t deny it happened.

Now we learn that Google was again blindsided by Samsung reportedly considering whether it really wanted to renew its $3-billion-a-year contract to keep Google Search as the default search engine on its mobile devices—or to instead switch to Microsoft’s A.I.-happy Bing, which was until recently more of a punch line than anything else. 

According to the Times piece, Googlers “reacted with emojis and surprise” when asked to knock together a pitch that might persuade Samsung to stay on board, with one saying, “Wow, okay, that’s wild.” That right there is the definition of complacency. 

I can certainly understand what’s behind it—Google’s global market share has been at 90% or more since the late naughties—and I also appreciate that Google’s reluctance to go all in on generative A.I. is partially motivated by a desire to keep search reliable and safe. But there’s clearly a degree of organizational inertia involved when employees are shocked at the suggestion of a key business partner reevaluating the competition. 

I guess that’s what happens when you’re (allegedly) used to buying market dominance. Wall Street certainly sees cracks forming in the status quo, with the NYT report knocking Alphabet’s share price by more than 3% today. But on the other hand, it sounds like Google has been effectively shaken out of its torpor, and I for one am keen to see how its services evolve in the near future.

P.S. It was a shame not to see SpaceX test the full Starship-plus-Super-Heavy-rocket bundle today, but them’s the breaks. Better luck later this week.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions to Data Sheet? Drop a line here.

David Meyer

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman. 


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