Google Search AI Overviews: Hilarious mistakes go viral

Google “upgraded” the Google Search experience at I/O 2024, bringing AI Overviews to the top of search results. This seemed like a good idea, at least from Google’s perspective, since there’s no hotter trend in tech right now than AI. Google wants users to let Google do the googling for them and speed up the Search experience, according to Sundar Pichai & Co.

We’ve already explained why that was a bad idea from the start. Google’s AI Overviews essentially steal content from websites and display it atop the results page. In the short run, websites that rely on that traffic could be hurt. Longer term, websites might go out of business, thus crippling the resources Google Gemini has at its disposal.

But it turns out that AI Overviews are so much worse than we thought. The web is filled with examples of AI Overviews that spew out the wrong information, as AI is unable to discern between genuine content, jokes, and satire. Some of these AI Overviews have gone viral in the past few days, making Google Search and Gemini look like a sad joke.

Google is still defining the work behind AI Overviews, but I think there’s no way to fix this problem. The best thing Google could do is cancel AI Overviews indefinitely. Or hide it somewhere on the Google Search results pages where it can be accessed only be users who want AI to do the googling for them.

I say this as someone who isn’t affected by all the AI Overviews nonsense out there.

First, the feature isn’t available in Europe, but I’m sure it’ll get here unless Google abandons it. Secondly, I quit Google Search long before Gemini AI Overviews became a laughingstock. I wouldn’t have experienced any of this anyway. I rely on a mix of DuckDuckGo, Perplexity, and ChatGPT to ask the internet for information.

Also, I’m well-versed in the ways of the internet. I grew up with it and witnessed Google Search from the early years. I still think Google Search is one of the key products that made the current internet experience possible.

Even though I don’t use it as much, I think Google Search is a crucially important source of information and should continue to be so even after AI takes over. That was the hardest part of ditching Google Search. I feared alternatives would not be as reliable.

As for AI, I know it hallucinates information. That’s why my custom instructions to ChatGPT include the requirement to provide links to back up the claims it makes.

But other people might not be so tech-savvy. They might take some of those false AI Overviews seriously. And that’s a problem if someone thinks putting glue on pizza so the cheese sticks better is a smart thing to do. That’s just one of the AI Overviews that went viral on social media. You can see plenty of others in this post.

Clearly, AI Overviews isn’t what Google thought it would be, and it turned into a massive joke instead. Even if, by some miracle, Google manages to salvage AI Overviews, the damage is done. No amount of damage control will fix it in the near future.

Even if some of these AI Overviews were doctored or hard to reproduce, as Google told BGR and others, the harm is done. Here’s Google’s statement:

The vast majority of AI Overviews provide high quality information, with links to dig deeper on the web. Many of the examples we’ve seen have been uncommon queries, and we’ve also seen examples that were doctored or that we couldn’t reproduce. We conducted extensive testing before launching this new experience, and as with other features we’ve launched in Search, we appreciate the feedback. We’re taking swift action where appropriate under our content policies, and using these examples to develop broader improvements to our systems, some of which have already started to roll out.

The bad AI Overviews don’t just hurt Google Search, Google’s most important flagship product. They also hurt Gemini, making it look like a sub-par AI tool. I’m not saying ChatGPT is immune to similar mistakes, but OpenAI doesn’t have a web search product of its own.

Also, I don’t doubt that Google will fix AI Overviews and that Gemini AI will get better in time and Google Search could be improved with AI.

I think Google should retire the AI Overviews for good and go back to the drawing board. After all, Google is good at killing off products that don’t perform well. If and when AI Overviews returns, it should get a different name, a “beta” label attached to it, and a way to make it completely optional for the user. Just like Google Search SGE was.

Whatever Google does will not impact my search experience. As I’ve explained, I’m unlikely to ever see or pay attention to AI Overviews because I don’t use Google Search anymore. This debacle with AI Overviews is a great example of why I ditched it in the first place.

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