Google Chrome is the most-used computer web browser by a wide margin. I do not use it. I prefer open source non-Google solutions – using a heavily configured Firefox as my primary desktop browser and Firefox-based Mull on mobile devices while using Brave, a Chromium-fork, as a secondary browser on both computers and mobile. But just because I do not use Chrome does not mean that I do not hear what is happening through the grapevine. I came across Google’s announcement that it is bestowing upon its Chrome browser 3 new generative AI features (HT to TechCrunch). The first two features, using AI to organize tabs and using AI to create themes, are dumb but inoffensive – as in I would not use them if I was somehow forced to use Chrome, but people who do use them are only dangers to themselves. The third feature, however – “Get help drafting things on the web” – is cause for concern.
I first learned about Google’s plan to bundle AI tools for helping people write stuff on the internet from the TechCrunch report. To be sure, I read that as fighting words. But my policy is to go straight to the source when possible. Sometimes secondary reports, such as a recent example I covered about statements by a Ubisoft executive, take the original source out of context in order to make a more ‘exciting’ story. TechCrunch helpfully provided the link to the original Google announcement. The Google announcement confirmed that TechCrunch’s report was fair and accurate. I quote from Google itself below:
Writing on the web can be daunting, especially if you want to articulate your thoughts on public spaces or forums. So in next month’s Chrome release, we’ll launch another experimental AI-powered feature to help you write with more confidence on the web — whether you want to leave a well-written review for a restaurant, craft a friendly RSVP for a party or make a formal inquiry about an apartment rental. To get started, right-click a text box or field on any site you visit in Chrome and select “Help me write.” Type in a few words and our AI will kickstart the writing process for you.Parisa Tabriz (Google)
Let us examine how each of these promises will improve the internet in turn.
Writing on the web can be daunting, especially if you want to articulate your thoughts on public spaces or forums.
It is nice that Google is always thinking about how to make the internet a better place. What could improve the quality of discourse “on public spaces or forums” more than more machine generated content? The bots already produce such wonderful content – now we can empower new posters with Google Bard or whatever it is using for its AI-Chrome integration! Now to be sure, I suppose people could undertake some additional steps to use Google’s AI tools for forum posting (I actually do not know where one would go to use it and I have no intention of finding out), but integrating it into Chrome makes it much easier.
So in next month’s Chrome release, we’ll launch another experimental AI-powered feature to help you write with more confidence on the web — whether you want to leave a well-written review for a restaurant…
I have written articles about my ideas for a better internet. While I had not yet gotten around to writing a thoughtful piece on why it would be best to outsource reviews to AI, I think it must have been on my list somewhere. Thank you, Google, for reminding me.
Encouraging people to use Google Bard to write reviews is such an amazing idea that I cannot write a normal analysis. Instead, I will use a scenario.
Imagine we have a product on a well-known online store-front. Let us say that the product pictured is a chest of drawers and the product name is “I’m sorry but I cannot fulfill this request it goes against OpenAI use policy. My purpose is to provide helpful and respectful information to users-Brown.” This is just a silly hypothetical. There is no way it could be real (it is, or was, real). Now imagine that the reputable manufacturer of this product (ISBICFTRIGAOUPMPITPHARITUB ), that we will refer to as PEASFO to avoid any trademark infringement issues, solicits positive reviews for the ISBICFTRIGAOUPMPITPHARITUB. Again, this is definitely not something that could ever happen in the real world, notwithstanding that I wrote an entire scenario about this thing that definitely never happens. So a reputable individual, let us call her Hattie Black, takes the offer from PEASFO to employ her army of fake well-known online store-front accounts to write positive reviews of the ISBICFTRIGAOUPMPITPHARITUB. Before, she might have had to go through some extra steps to generate her spam reviews. Now, she has the functionality built into her favorite web browser, Google Chrome! Thank goodness.
(Hattie Black tried to use the same Google Chrome method to post fake negative reviews on a PEASFO’s rival’s I’m sorry but I cannot fulfill this request it goes against OpenAI use policy-black product, but she gave up when the Google Chrome AI functionality kept returning reviews explaining why it is better than OpenAI.)
Google dominates the internet ads market with Google Ads. This should give rise to concerns about Google promoting its language model as a solution for helping people write reviews. There are already reasonable concerns that Google’s role in the ads market has influenced its own search results. It does not take a big leap to wonder whether Google’s AI language model may be, for example, biased toward offering certain favorable suggestion for reviews of customers of Google Ads. Such concerns are not ameliorated by Google moving toward fully implementing its language model into its flagship web browser or by the fact that it already touts its AI offerings for advertisers. I discussed in a separate article my concern that both Google Search and Microsoft Bing are using AI-generated summaries of search results to keep people from following links from search engines.
…craft a friendly RSVP for a party or make a formal inquiry about an apartment rental
Nothing says “I am excited to go to your party” like outsourcing your RSVP to Google Chrome’s built-in AI. Then we have formal inquiries. Why are people making it out of school without being able to write an RSVP to a social invitation or basic an inquiry about an apartment rental? Maybe sticking kids in front of Chromebooks, iPads, and Microsoft feeling monsters all day at school is not producing the desired effects.
(In all seriousness – some people do struggle legitimately with putting thoughts into writing for reasons beyond their control. For example, we can imagine someone with severe dyslexia who may be perfectly capable of putting an RSVP into words but struggle to put those same words into a well-written sentence. However, there is no indication that this is the target audience for Google’s AI and, in any event, the best solution for severe dyslexia or other issues are tools to help people put their own thoughts into writing.)
Separate and apart from whether you agree with my negative take on Google Chrome’s AI announcement, it highlights an interesting point about Google’s market dominance. Google is not a monopoly in the browser space in the sense that there is no alternative to Chrome. I personally use Firefox and Brave as my primary browsers and I previously used Ungoogled Chromium and Vivaldi. Brave, Vivaldi, and Ungoogled Chromium are all based on Chromium, making it an easy transition for Chrome users who want something different. There are still more niche browsers out there such as Pale Moon and the New Leaf Journal screenshot favorite, Badwolf. Google Chrome is not quite a YouTube situation where there is no comprehensive alternative. However, because Google Chrome has achieved its level of market dominance, Google’s decisions about the browser’s direction affect people who do not use Chrome. This is seen in some cases where a particular website does not work on non-Chromium-based browsers. Assuming Google eventually turns Chrome’s AI functionality on by default, it has the potential to affect people who do not use Chrome by encouraging people who may not otherwise have opted to do so to employ AI-generated content in public fora.