Google Search to pay with AI. It is not a question of if but when

Are you ready to see a piece of the internet that has helped change our lives collapse? I am talking about Google, the search engine that almost all people go through when they turn on a laptop or smartphone. Bringing about what could be a substantial change in Google Search will be generative artificial intelligence. The idea running through the corridors of Mountain View is to create a package with premium features linked to the use of the search engine to offer users a subscription to take full advantage of Google’s AI.

The anticipation came from the Financial Times, which said that Alphabet is considering launching a paid version of Search. It is not an easy decision to make because it would be the first time that Google charges for the use of a tool that has always been free. The reasoning revolves around how people would receive the choice, considering that it was Google Search that accustomed us to the idea of obtaining information online without paying for it.

A subscription to pay back the cost of AI

The development of Gemini AI is a priority for the company, and its integration with the other services of the Google ecosystem is a process that has already begun, as the new Gmail and Docs features demonstrate. Which are available to subscribers of the Advanced version of Gemini AI (in English only), while free is the basic version of Big G’s AI, a chatbot similar to ChatGPT. When questioned by the media, the company said it currently ‘has nothing to announce and is not working on or considering an ad-free search experience, but will continue to create new features and premium services to enhance Google’s subscription offerings’. These words are not a confirmation but also not a denial of the hypothesis of paid Google Search.

To understand Google’s motives for change, we are helped by the number 175, which is the billions of dollars earned in 2023 thanks to advertising from the search engine. However, with AI solutions making inroads, another way of obtaining information online is emerging. On the other hand, by implementing these solutions, Search can provide more complete answers, and users will avoid clicking on the proposed sites, which would see their traffic drop dramatically. This is a scenario that would drive advertisers away from Google, whose revenues still largely depend on ads.

Google Search

Until Google or someone else comes up with an effective system to integrate advertising into the results that Gemini and other Gen-AIs provide in response to user queries, a subscription to the search engine may be a fair solution. Provided that a free version of Search is left, with more limited resources but capable of guaranteeing income for Google by maintaining the ads. By the way, advertising could also remain in the paid version. So why should one pay? To get better answers, but also because Gen-AI searches cost Google much more than standard searches.

The need for more computational capacity and much more power drives up costs. A single search on the current search engine costs Big G a fifth of a cent, a price that increases about tenfold for a search using Gemini AI. Overall, Google has calculated that the increase could inflate prices from 600 million to 12 billion dollars. Thinking about Google being in trouble because of the price hike seems absurd; however, the cases of large market leaders who were unprepared and then collapsed when faced with a paradigm shift (remember Nokia?) make it necessary to play it safe and not underestimate anything. Especially the strength and weight of generative artificial intelligence.

Alessio Caprodossi is a technology, sports, and lifestyle journalist. He navigates between three areas of expertise, telling stories, experiences, and innovations to understand how the world is shifting. You can follow him on Twitter (@alecap23) and Instagram (Alessio Caprodossi) to report projects and initiatives on startups, sustainability, digital nomads, and web3.