Not metavers, Sundar Pichai sees Google’s future in web search, AI

By Mark Bergen,

While many other tech giants are embracing the metaverse as the next frontier for growth, Sundar Pichai sees Google’s future in its oldest offering: Web search.

“I feel privileged that our mission is timeless,” Pichai, chief executive officer of Google and its parent company, Alphabet Inc., said in an interview with Emily Chang of Bloomberg Television for the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore. “There is more need to organize information than ever before.”

Earlier this month, Alphabet briefly crossed $2 trillion in market value thanks to revenue and earnings growth during the pandemic. When asked where the next trillion would come from, Pichai pointed to his company’s core service. Consumers will ask computers more questions with speech and “multimodal experiences,” he predicted. “Being able to adapt to all that and further develop the search remains the greatest opportunity,” the CEO said.

Also read: Google’s parent company Alphabet reaches $2 trillion valuation

Since its acquisition of Google in 2015, Pichai has pushed the company deeper into cloud computing and artificial intelligence, while tightening regulatory oversight. In the interview, Pichai ticked off Google’s top growth companies — cloud, the YouTube video service, and the app store — and said AI investments were “underpinning” each of them.

The Indian-born executive also said he expects more of Google’s products to be developed and tested in Asia before spreading around the world. But not in China. After Google made plans in 2018 to bring search to mainland China, Google has kept most of its services out of the most populous nation following employee outcry. “I don’t see that changing,” Pichai said.

But he doesn’t share the vague view of other Silicon Valley executives about China’s technological progress. Pichai acknowledged that Google is “neck and neck” with Chinese companies on AI and quantum computing, but argued that the US and China have room to work together on areas such as climate change and AI security.

Some of Google’s greatest colleagues, such as Microsoft Corp. and Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., have their future focused on the virtual worlds of the metaverse. Google has taken different approaches to virtual and augmented reality products, with limited success. Years ago, the first attempt, the Google Glass headgear, famously flopped. Google recently moved these efforts into a new division that reports to Pichai, though he didn’t provide any details on the strategy.

“I’ve always been excited about the future of immersive computing,” he said. “This does not belong to any company. This is the evolution of the internet.”

Evangelists of the metaverse often talk about the potential to build in new technologies, such as the blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Aside from some cloud partnerships, Google has largely avoided this part of the industry.

Pichai said he does not own any cryptocurrency. “I wish I did,” he said. “I dice in it, you know, in and out.”

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