BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

When Google launched Artificial Intelligence products at their annual event (Google IO 2023) it was clear to me then that at some point they would threaten the publishing industry. What I’ve always feared about Google AI products was confirmed during the latest annual (Google I/O 2024) event. One of those latest AI products is AI Overviews.

They are a new search feature that provides users with AI-generated answers to certain queries. And they appear above all other search results. AI Overviews work very differently than chatbots and other LLM products that people may have tried out. They’re not simply generating an output based on training data. While AI Overviews are powered by a customised language model, the model is integrated with Googles core web ranking systems and designed to carry out traditional “search” tasks, like identifying relevant, high-quality results from Googles index. That’s why AI Overviews don’t just provide text output, but include relevant links so people can explore further. Because accuracy is paramount in Search, AI Overviews are built to only show information that is backed up by top web results.

It’s worth noting that this feature has now been rolled back after the new technology errors. I have no doubt it will be improved and returned on Google Searches firstly in the US and thereafter rolled out to other countries.

The A.I.-generated summaries are the latest area of tension between tech companies and publishers. The background to this issue has a lot to do with the fact that links on Google Search have been a source of income for the publishing industry. A highly ranked website stood a chance of receiving more attention. Google is now beginning to tamper with this important element of the publishing industry. Most big publishers, receive a significant chunk of traffic from people going to Google, searching for something and clicking on articles about it. Thereafter the online traffic, in turn, allows publishers to sell ads and subscriptions, which pay for the next wave of articles, which Google can then show to people who go searching for the next thing. AI Overviews in its current format seems to be showcasing Google information on top followed by other links. The publishing industry is concerned that this move by Google could impact their earnings. The industry is justified in raising concerns. The AI revolution has already shown terrible signs for publishers. We now know that some AI companies have used content from the media and publishing industry to train AI models. The use of articles from news sites has also set off a legal fight over whether companies like OpenAI and Google violated copyright law by taking the content without permission to build their A.I. models.

As a result of concerns raised by the media and publishing industry some AI companies have begun cutting deals with major media companies. OpenAI, which scraped news sites to build ChatGPT, started cutting deals with publishers. The company indicated that it would pay companies, including The Associated Press, The Atlantic and News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal, to access their content. But Google, whose ad technology helps publishers make money, has not yet signed similar deals.

It’s also important to note that these deals are mainly done with US based media companies. What about media companies in the African continent? Is it possible that AI companies have avoided content from African media companies in the process of training their models? If content from African media entities has been used, it is only fair that they also receive a cut on the basis of their content being used for AI platforms.

These developments should be watched closely by African media and publishing companies. Part of the strategy should be about engaging with tech companies as a collective. On the other hand there’s a need for African media and publishing companies to find alternative means of income. It seems that In future, Google will no longer be a source of income.