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Google turns 25, with an uncertain future as AI looms

As the company turns 25, many are wondering what the future holds.
Alain Jocard
AFP via Getty Images
As the company turns 25, many are wondering what the future holds.

Google helped shape the internet. Now, artificial intelligence threatens to change everything.

What is it? Arguably the most successful search engine of all time, which turns 25 this week.

  • Started in 1999 by two Stanford PhD students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, their objective, as stated by Page in a 2003 Fresh Air interview, was pretty simple: "We want to provide information to people. That's what we do. And so we try to err on that side whenever we can. And I think this will be a very interesting issue for the world going forward."
  • Of course, it has expanded into an entire internet ecosystem for users; there's the Google Workspace, Google Translate, YouTube (acquired by Google in 2006), Gmail, Google phones, and so much more, all tracing back to those early days of the DIY dorm room operation.

What's the big deal? Google's domination of the internet is complicated.

  • Clickbait, targeted ads and search engine optimization muddied the waters of the goal to just "provide information to people." And then there's the advertising.
  • Nilay Patel is the editor-in-chief of The Verge and says the founders of Google didn't know what business they were in at first. Patel told NPR: "At the very beginning of Google, they were both fairly opposed to advertising. And they knew that advertising would be a way to make money, but they thought it would corrupt the company inevitably. And here we are 25 years later, and Google is a dominant purveyor of advertising online. I think it's important for us to all take a minute and look at it and say, 'OK, our information architecture is dominated by people searching for things, and those search results are very much influenced by the needs of Google.'"
  • And now artificial intelligence could usher in a new era of opportunity — and change — for the search giant.

What does the future hold?
Leon Neal / Getty Images
Getty Images
What does the future hold?

What are people saying? All Things Considered's Ari Shapiro spoke with Patel about Google's history, and how emerging technology could impact its future.

Here's Patel on the possible role of AI:

Want to listen to the full conversation between Ari and Nilay? Click the 'play' button at the top of this page.

And here's Patel on whether AI integration could mean an improvement for users:

So, what now?

  • Alongside the philosophical questions, there are very real and imminent challenges to Google happening now.
  • Next Tuesday, the Justice Department's antitrust trial against Google is slated to begin. The DOJ and dozens of states are attacking business agreements that have made Google the default search engine on many phones, web browsers and smart speakers.
  • Google has called the lawsuit "deeply flawed," saying in a statement in 2020: "People use Google because they choose to, not because they're forced to, or because they can't find alternatives. This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use."
  • And finally, remember this movie?

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Manuela López Restrepo
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.