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Ex-Google product manager compares its AI obsession to the disastrous launch of Google+

Published May 20th, 2024 7:03PM EDT

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Google’s obsession with AI looks a little familiar to Scott Jenson, an ex-Google product manager and 16-year veteran of the company who’s seen this movie more than once before.

In a LinkedIn post, Jenson (who left Google a few weeks ago) opined that the company’s scramble to launch as many new AI features into as many of its products as possible is in no way a response to genuine user demand. In fact, you can get a sense of that argument yourself from the number of people searching Google right now for how to turn off the company’s annoying new AI Overviews.

Google’s motivations here, Jenson continues, are actually pretty simple to understand: It’s all in response to, as he puts it, “stone cold panic” that the current AI boom is going to leave the company behind. That’s why Google has decided, for example, that its AI needs to just start summarizing the contents of web pages, as opposed to actually sending users there (never mind if that AI says wacky things in the process, like drinking urine can help pass kidney stones).

“The ‘AI Projects’ I was working on were poorly motivated and driven by this mindless panic that as long as it had ‘AI’ in it, it would be great,” Jenson writes. “This myopia is NOT something driven by a user need.”

He continues: “The vision is that there will be a Tony Stark-like Jarvis assistant in your phone that locks you into their ecosystem so hard that you’ll never leave. That vision is pure catnip. The fear is that they can’t afford to let someone else get there first.”

As a side note, one thing that you learn the closer you look at the unfolding AI boom is that so much of it is built on companies’ fear of what their rivals might accomplish. For example, Sam Altman convened a now-infamous dinner at a Silicon Valley hotel back in 2015 to discuss setting up an AI research lab as a counter to Google. Elon Musk was one of the guests at that dinner, which gave birth to OpenAI.

Altman & Co. were afraid that if Google achieved AGI first, it would be generally bad for humanity.

Google, meanwhile, is now doing pretty much the same thing.

OpenAI scrambled to counter a perceived AI threat from Google, and now Google has decided that the threat from OpenAI is so acute that Google needs to essentially eat the free and open web to produce its AI Overviews (that’ll show ‘em!)

“This exact thing happened 13 years ago with Google+ (I was there for that fiasco as well),” Jenson adds in his post. “That was a similar hysterical reaction but to Facebook. 

“BTW, Apple is no different. They too are trying to create this AI lock-in with Siri.  When the emperor, eventually, has no clothes, they’ll be lapped by someone thinking bigger. I’m not a luddite, there *is* some value to this new technology. It’s just not well motivated.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.