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In the valley of the bland, the content creator will be king

Google et al are pursuing consumer GenAI at pace. Is it pace for the sake of it? The latest developments suggest so and that presents an opportunity for media brands.

by Rob Corbidge
Published: 15:00, 16 May 2024

Rob Corbidge is Head of Content Intelligence at Glide Publishing Platform, applying the latest knowledge about advances and ideas in the publishing industry to our own product and helping clients get the most from their content.

A man with a crown sitting on a chair surrounded by broken equipment

Watching Google's I/O is akin to watching an oil company's latest drilling presentation that doesn't actually mention oil at any point. If 78 per cent of the revenue of a business comes from one thing, then you might think that the word for it would be used a few times. 

So it is you'll watch in vain for a mention of the word "advertising" in 2024's I/O. Maybe they do believe internally that Google will eventually become a subscription business. 

To bee or not to bee

Google's drilling operations are for data though, and all that sweet near-monopoly on search advertising is just the honey from the bee. We're the bees by the way. To the audience at the I/O they're selling belief and trust. No ruining the fun with profit and advert talk. 

There were things to make one nod ones head in approval at the presentation, which is now essentially a product showcase. The ability to interrogate combinations of different media types from single prompts, "multimodal AI" as Google would have it, is head-noddingly good for example. Or improvements in rendering text in AI-gen images that seem to be ahead of competitors for now. 

Indeed there are a number of areas Google has clearly progressed GenAI technology. It would be evidence of vast incompetence if a business had the resources of Google with its bloated workforce and tectonic levels of cash and couldn't progress anything. Yet selling itself an AI-first business is something we all know not to be true, and that the "AI-first" posture is a fairly recent adaptation forced by competition. Loud competition, with similar attitude to making money from other people's work. 

The life of serfitude

As a publisher, it was all a bit close to being a Kulak listening to plans for Soviet farm collectivisation though, as we were seeing the tepidly-named AI Overviews (the new name for SGE) in the wild for the first time. It's not your content, it's our content, comrade. In that are the seeds of our optimism though.

Time and time again, Google's examples of consumer AI use during the I/O were at best shaky. Talking about the new AI Overviews - GenAI search results -  one executive said "instead of piecing all the information together yourself, you can ask your question" with a stressed emphasis on "piecing" to indicate the massive death-defying struggle required to learn how to make a strawberry meringue.

Google's ideal GenAI user seems to be someone who constantly requires summaries. Is their aim to populate the web with summaries of summaries of summaries, ad infinitum? 

Trip planning seemed to be one of the most arduous tasks faced by the modern Google executive, the zeal with which they appeared on stage and praised the Gemini app's ability to do it for them. "Trip planning, for a relaxing break? Urgh. That cuts right into my time spraying the garden fence with wood preserver in the hot sun." Whatever. 

Most of us mere mortals enjoy trip planning. You know why? Because we don't get to go away so often. 

A demonstration of another product used for identifying the parts of a record player and discovering what was wrong with it using a combined video/text prompt was illustrative. The record player had a balance issue with the tonearm, and right there beneath the tailored result was a link to the website of Audio Technica, the record player's manufacturers, explaining exactly how to balance a tonearm. 

At least there was a link. 

Infinite supply of contempt

Need we speak of the expert blogs and vlogs harvested, with information in addition to Audio Technica's own, that can be returned in such an GenAI result? It's all our content comrade. There was scant reference to the sources for all this wondrous product being shown. "Our high bar for information quality" was one quote I snapped. It made me think of the current and frankly mad behaviour of the Google search algo right now. That's one shoogly bar. That's one definition of high.

"There's no wrong way to prompt" according to the bouncy commercial at the end of the I/O. Well, an example prompt used in the ad was "Explain how temperature impacts baking". If "impact" is a word you find appropriate for the care required to be good at baking, then good luck chef. 

"Infinite content" was the professed aim that Google CEO Sundar Pichai made on stage at the event. He would likely view such an idea as an unleashing of human creativity, yet anyone familiar with the creative process must feel that infinite resources aren't actually the friend of creativity, and that the derivative future offered by this vast advertising company is a rather bland one. 

Where there’s muck, there’s brass

There's a broader argument in there around how the web has become treated as subject led, rather than citizen led, and how that period is coming to a close. However, in the bland future that Google presents is gold for media companies willing to experiment, to accept that adaption is a constant process, be ready to evolve and importantly, not accept the writ of Big Tech as gospel. 

The time is now to be bold and reclaim the ground surrendered to Big Tech over the last twenty years. 

As for OpenAI, that particular tumultuous ship continues to yield resignations as key technologist Ilya Sutskever announced his resignation this week following the underwhelming launch of GPT-4o, signalling the triumph of businessman Sam Altman over the technologist who got him fired, and signalling more absurd proclamations about our AI future that are mostly designed to benefit OpenAI's bottom line. It sounds like Google already.

It is refreshing to learn that there is some human creativity Google doesn't want to harvest. Comments for the 2024 I/O on YouTube were turned off. 

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