Already a member? Log In

It’s the End of the Web as We Know It

mark zuckerberg
While Zuckerberg has suggested it will take years for the company’s investments in A.I. to turn into profits, Meta’s fortress balance sheet means it has enough runway to see this through. Photo: Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Shortly after my recent piece about how generative A.I. search engine Perplexity is changing the web, the media and tech executive Geoff Isenman emailed me a poignant question on the minds of many web philosophers. Isenman wondered about the growing fear that increasingly sophisticated A.I. search will disincentivize digital content creators from publishing in the first place, and without that, he asked, “what will Perplexity summarize?” After all, Perplexity offers natural-language responses to queries instead of unfurling a list of relevant web pages. Will web consumers continue to visit sites and read articles when the information you’re looking for can be summarized in a tidy paragraph in mere seconds? 

His question took on new urgency this week. At Google’s I/O developer conference, on Tuesday, Alphabet announced that it’s effectively going full throttle on artificial intelligence—expanding its own A.I. search summaries to all U.S.-based users before rolling out the function to billions more globally by the end of the year. It was another leap toward what The Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel has ominously called “Google Zero”—the day when websites get no more referral traffic from the search giant. And because big A.I. developments come in waves, earlier this week Sam Altman’s OpenAI released GPT-4o, which is essentially a working version of the A.I. assistant from the movie Her. This new version also integrates web searches, so it’s only a matter of time before OpenAI fully takes on web search as well.