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AI to drive new Google info

Google this week showcased tighter integration of artificial intelligence into online shopping services, which may just make ecommerce more attractive and accessible, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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At Google’s Search On virtual event this week, it announced several new features powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to drive ecommerce adoption and smooth out the pain points people frequently encounter while using these services. Google says these changes are meant to show how its latest AI innovations are making information more helpful than ever. 

Its biggest announcement was Multitask Unified Model (MUM): a new AI to understand text, images, and video to draw insights and connect these insights to other concepts. This makes it possible, for example, to take a picture of a shirt someone is wearing, and find similar shirts on ecommerce platforms. This can also be expanded to other items. If you see a shirt you like, but you’d prefer the pattern on socks, you can point your camera and ask the question.  

Animated GIF showing how you can tap on the Lens icon when you’re looking at a picture of a shirt, and ask Google to find you the same pattern — but on another article of clothing, like socks.

The feature will launch on Google Lens in the coming months, available first to English-speaking users.  

Starting soon, iOS users in the US will see a new button in the Google app to make all the images on a page searchable through Google Lens. This means users will soon be able to search shoppable images on websites, seamlessly, as they browse with Lens mode in the iOS Google App. 

Lens is also coming to Chrome for computers, so users will soon be able to select images, video and text content on a website with Lens to see search results in the same tab — without leaving the page they’re on. 

With systems like MUM, Google is also redesigning Search and new features that enable natural, more intuitive ways to search. It showcased the following new features that will make this happen: 

  • Things to know: When you search for a topic, like acrylic painting, you can see all the different dimensions people typically search for, and find the path that’s right for you. Google will be launching this feature in the coming months. In the future, MUM will unlock deeper insights you might not have known to search for — like “how to make acrylic paintings with household items” — and connect you with content on the web that you wouldn’t otherwise have found. 
  • Refine this search / Broaden this search: These features help you explore information by zooming into more specific aspects of a topic, or broadening out to more general ideas. Launching in the coming months in English 
  • A visually browsable results page: For searches where you need inspiration or want to explore information visually, it announced a redesigned page that makes it easy to browse visually to find what you’re looking for. Available in English in the U.S. when you search for visual ideas. 

This redesign is also heavily skewing users towards more ecommerce options to drive adoption. Users can now browse apparel on mobile from their Search results. For example, when they search for “cropped jackets,” Google will show them a visual feed of jackets in various colours and styles alongside other helpful information, like local shops, style guides and videos. Google says it has over 24-billion listings to enable this experience, which is only available in the US for now. 

Users can search for products and see if they’re in stock at their local retailer. Only a select number of countries will have this convenience – South Africa isn’t one of them, but this will likely come in future. 

Google is also going into the business of addressing, which will give formal addressing to under-addressed communities. This can help users open a bank account, apply for a job, or receive package deliveries. Google has partnered with governments and NGOs in South Africa, Kenya, and India to enable this service. 

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