As Google approaches its 25th anniversary, it is looking to the next quarter of a century the same way it did when it first started – believing it will be able to change the world with technology. Only this time, what it envisions is far more advanced than it ever imagined in 1998.
With artificial intelligence emerging as the newest battleground in the technology arena, companies are jockeying for pole position when it comes to innovation brought further into the limelight by generative AI.
That aligns with Google's plans to make AI “for all” – the very same ideology it had when its co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, began dabbling with web search in September 1998 and seeing the difference it could make.
The duo's mission was to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet, wrote in a message for its silver anniversary, which is on September 27.
It was, as he put it, an “ambitious vision” for Mr Page and Mr Brin to create, at the time, a new kind of search engine “to help people make sense of the waves of information moving online”.
Fast forward to more than two decades later, the company is getting ready for another monumental technological shift akin to what it envisioned before the 21st century kicked in.
“With AI, we have the opportunity to do things that matter on an even larger scale. There is so much more ahead. Over time, AI will be the biggest technological shift we see in our lifetimes,” Mr Pichai said.
“It’s bigger than the shift from desktop computing to mobile, and it may be bigger than the internet itself. It’s a fundamental rewiring of technology and an incredible accelerant of human ingenuity.”
AI has come a long way and has been widely used across categories. But the advent of generative AI has changed all that.
Google, with its Bard service, is currently locked in a battle for supremacy with Microsoft-backed OpenAI's ChatGPT, which launched the generative AI craze, and other companies.
The company – a subsidiary of Alphabet in 2015 following a rebranding – has long known AI, which has powered its industry-leading and omnipresent search service. Google searches run well into the dozens of trillions since the service was launched.
AI is also widely used across Google's portfolio of products, which total 127 and include popular services such as Gmail, YouTube and the Android operating system, which powers smartphones that rival Apple's iPhones.
Fifteen of these products each serve more than half a billion people and businesses, while six serve more than two billion users each, Mr Pichai said, with localisation also being key to reaching more users to fulfil regional preferences.
“AI can play an important role in driving innovation in businesses and empowering people in their daily lives across the Middle East and North Africa,” Anthony Nakache, managing director of Google Mena, told The National.
“Since launching Bard in Arabic earlier this year, we've seen immense positive feedback and we're committed to continue to bring everyday AI closer to Arabic speakers across the region.”
Google's AI technology is used to analyse and understand the content of web pages, as well as to identify patterns in user behaviour, according to industry platform SEO.ai.
This helps Google to better understand what users are looking for and to provide more accurate search results, it said.
The company promoted its algorithm as the secret sauce that makes Google search faster while providing more relevant results and making it easier to connect relevant content from any web source.
“More importantly, it provided a foundation that made advertising a dominant factor in decades of Google’s revenue growth – something that most did not see coming,” Daryl Plummer, a vice president and analyst at Gartner, told The National.
Google's revenue has grown exponentially – from a humble $400 million in 2002 to about $279.8 billion in 2022, a 9 per cent rise from the previous year.
Net income was also healthy, growing manifold, from $99.7 million in 2002 to about $60 billion in 2022, albeit a fall of 21 per cent from 2021.
Generative AI could help maintain and boost Google's bottom line – and this draws parallels to when the company first began with its search service, Mr Plummer said.
The technology “is starting to create a productivity explosion like the world has never seen. We are in a similar place to when Google search was introduced”, he said.
Mr Plummer expects Google to “certainly use” generative AI to boost its advertising business which, like the majority of technology companies, stagnated due to persistent inflation, high interest rates and economic uncertainty.
The company is expected to “extend AI into virtually everything it does” because it will be the “next revolution in digital growth”, he said.
“Google has the opportunity, as do many others, to break new ground and find solutions that others did not see coming. The door to opportunity is open once more. Google must walk through it.”
Google's experience will certainly serve it well; true to form, its next phase of growth and innovation will, again, rely on where it all started – with searching.
“Our search for answers will drive extraordinary technology progress over the next 25 years,” Mr Pichai said.
“And in 2048, if, somewhere in the world, a teenager looks at all we’ve built with AI and shrugs, we’ll know we succeeded. And then we’ll get back to work.”