Does ChatGPT threaten Google and its search engine? Since the general public seized the publisher’s conversational agent Open AI, the Internet giant which dominated the web has been seriously shaken to its foundations. How does Google intend to fare out of the game, caught between different international legislations and competition? Kent Walker, the legal director of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, provides some answers.
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The arrival of ChatGPT in November 2022 has changed Internet search, Google’s backyard for fifteen years. The American group had to speed up the integration of this tool, but wants to remain cautious, explains its director of public affairs Kent Walker to AFP.
A year ago ChatGPT was launched. What was the impact for Google?
Whether they’ve used Google’s search engine, Maps, Google Translate or Gmail, people have been using artificial intelligence (AI) for a dozen years. Over the past year, AI has become more visible. The rise of these chatbots has accelerated our work and broadened popular acceptance of AI. But many of the new advances build on papers we’ve published since 2012.
However, Internet users now prefer to use chatGPT than the Google search engine. Is it threatened?
Some of these new AI tools aren’t always as accurate as traditional search. They have what we call hallucinations. We must therefore use our research experience to base the results on accurate information. So we integrate AI into our search engine to achieve what we call a generative search experience, so we have the best of both worlds.
Google is currently on trial in the United States for the predominant position of its search engine. The first phase is over, would you say Google did well?
The lawsuit in the United States focused on the question of why people use Google. We were happy to prove that people choose Google because they want to, not because they have to. This means that when we work with other platforms that charge us to distribute our products, we must make them the default. We hope the Court agrees with this and we will probably know next spring.
What do you think of the future European AI Act?
We agree with the French, German and Italian governments who recently published a paper saying the AI Act should focus on a proportionate, risk-based response, looking at its specific uses. The challenges are very different in the banking, health and transport sectors. We therefore refer to what we call a hub-and-spoke approach, where there is a center of expertise but each regulatory agency must understand the potential and risks in their area.
We hope to be able to partner with governments to create a legal environment that promotes innovation and adoption by European businesses. It was remarkable to see 150 leading European companies say they want flexible regulation.
We are seeing attempts at censorship developing in a series of countries: China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran… Do you think a global Internet will survive?
Google’s founding mission was to make the world’s information universally accessible. We are always working towards this goal, responsibly.
But do you sometimes accept censorship?
We are working hard to minimize the impact on our services. In 2010, we ended up withdrawing our services from China due to the censorship regime. There is increasing pressure from governments around the world, and we recognize that we must comply with the laws of the countries where we operate. But we advocate for increased access to information wherever possible. We hope that the vision of an open and free Internet will prevail. We can share ideas and discoveries in minutes that would have taken months or years a generation ago.
What was your most difficult task as Google’s general counsel?
Perhaps the foundation for the regulation of artificial intelligence, the most important technological development of our time. Getting this foundation right is critically important. But it’s complicated because there are many stakeholders.
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