Wednesday, May 22, 2024

What is Google’s AI-powered Search Experience (SGE) and how do you use it?

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Generative artificial intelligence has been an attention suck of the tech industry for years. It was buzzword-worthy before crypto’s short-lived heyday, and with ChatGPT, Bing Chat, and now Google’s SGE – that’s Search Generative Experience to you – it has exploded onto the scene like it never did before. So, what is SGE, and how do you use it? We’ll try and explain.

What is Google SGE?

Google announced Search Generative Experience at its I/O 2023 conference in May as a limited-trial opt-in feature in the United States. Access was rationed out early on via a waitlist for Search Labs, the company’s portal for various search-related experiments. The announcement tailed behind Microsoft’s campaign integrating ChatGPT (it has a major stake in the company that created the chatbot, OpenAI) into a variety of products, including Windows, its search engine Bing, and other apps such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams.

SGE – known internally as Magi – incorporates generative AI’s ability to summarize large amounts of data into the Google search experience on Chrome whether you’re using it on a desktop, Android, or iOS. You can also use SGE on a number of Chromium-based browsers like Microsoft Edge. It’s not strictly a chatbot Google Bard, ChatGPT, or Bing Chat are, but you will see responses that will try to give a comprehensive but concise answer to some of the questions you may have when conducting a web search. In other words, SGE is meant to get a complete picture without you having to surf through multiple pages to pick out the details.

How to sign up for and use SGE

With a Chromium browser, make sure you’re signed into your Google account and then head to the Google Search Labs webpage – Search Labs should be available to most if not all, US Google users at this point. On the feature panel labeled SGE, switch the toggle on, and you should be able to begin seeing AI-generated summaries while you search. Based on Google’s current framing, it looks like SGE will stick with its experimental label through at least the end of the year, but this is subject to change.

When entering a general search query or asking a question, you’ll see SGE insert a summary at the top of the results page along with other illustrative elements like an image, lines of code, a recipe, or some other suggestions. To the right of the summary are the pieces SGE is supposedly getting its information from. Pressing the button at the top-right corner expands the source list and places them in the body of the summary, but don’t confuse them for in-line citations.

At the bottom of the summary box are follow-up prompts that you can use to continue your search – this will lead you to a streamlined chat interface with a reduced emphasis on listing results. The bottom-right corner features a link to Search Labs and thumb-up and thumb-down feedback buttons.

At the very top of the box is a disclaimer noting that SGE is in an experimental stage and that the quality of information provided “may vary” – as with any generative AI product where hallucinations are an issue, these summaries could include inaccurate details with no traceable sourcing at all. Sometimes, SGE will tag an additional disclaimer at the bottom of summaries for health-related queries or not generate a summary at all.

What does Google SGE do?

In August, Google introduced several new sub-features for SGE.

The biggest among them was a feature called SGE while browsing. The feature, which launched as an exclusive to Chrome on desktop and Google Search on Android, allows users to open up a special Google Search side panel while they’re browsing a webpage. A special SGE module will list a number of key points from the page that users can click on to be taken to each one. Users can also press the Generate button in the panel to add a summary as well.

Other features included one that highlights certain words in summaries and popping up an explanatory box, complete with their own linked resources and follow-up prompts, to help define what certain concepts are. Another feature enhances code-related answers with snippets containing proper syntax highlighting – you will need to flip a toggle in the Search Labs page called Code Tips.


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