Google Rolls Back A.I. Search Feature After Flubs and Flaws

Google appears to have turned off its new A.I. Overviews for a number of searches as it works to minimize errors.
Google Rolls Back A.I. Search Feature After Flubs and Flaws

When Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, introduced a generative artificial intelligence feature for the company’s search engine last month, he and his colleagues demonstrated the new capability with six text-based queries that the public could try out.

The questions included “how do you clean a fabric sofa” and “what should I use to get a coffee stain out of my carpet.” These were intended to highlight how Google’s new feature, A.I. Overviews, could generate full and useful information summaries above traditional search results.

But by Friday, only one of the six queries still yielded an A.I. Overview, according to tests by The New York Times. Instead, the feature was noticeably less prevalent. The search for “what should I use to get a coffee stain out of my carpet” now resulted in a snippet of text from a website, JDog Carpet Cleaning & Floor Care, while “how do you clean a fabric sofa” was replaced by a link to HGTV’s website with the answer. (The results of the searches may vary depending on the user and location.)

The disappearance of A.I. Overviews for some of the searches appeared to be part of a broader rollback after the new technology produced a litany of untruths and errors — including recommending glue as part of a pizza recipe and suggesting that people ingest rocks for nutrients. Users loudly complained on social media about the mistakes, in many cases outright making fun of Google.

Liz Reid, who was recently promoted to Google’s head of search, wrote in a blog post on Thursday that the company had pared back A.I. Overviews in certain ways, launching “additional triggering refinements” to offer more careful responses about health, disabling misleading advice and limiting the inclusion of satire and user responses from forums like Reddit.

“We’ll keep improving when and how we show AI Overviews and strengthening our protections,” she wrote, adding that Google was working on updates to improve broad sets of search results.