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Google Search with AI features might come with a fee soon

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Google is thinking about charging a fee for access to features in Search that are powered by generative AI, a new report claims. Currently, Search doesn’t offer any native AI-based features. At least, not features that Google has baked into the core Search product as fully rolled out. However, you can access experimental AI features in Search through the “Search Labs” page.

On this page, you’ll find two toggles for AI-powered features that will let you test these experimental offerings. One feature, called SGE or Search Generative Experience, will give you AI-powered overviews of your chosen topic. Say you’re looking for “Pizza in downtown Seattle.” If you have the SGE toggle enabled, you might end up with an AI-powered overview. These should pop up with every search topic. Some will be automatic while others will have a “generate” button above the results. And they simply give you a more detailed overview of what you were searching for.

Another AI feature called “SGE while browsing” will fill the web pages you’re looking at with AI-powered tools. These pop up in a card panel on the right of the page and will have a generate button for highlighting key points, as well as jump links that take you to a specific section on that page. It’s these kinds of features that Google is reportedly thinking about charging for.

Google Search would remain free to use, while the AI features would have a fee

According to The Financial Times, which first reported on Google’s consideration of tacking a fee onto the AI-powered Search tools, only the AI features would come with a fee. The core Search product, which is currently free, would remain free to use and would still serve up ads since ads are still the primary way Google makes a profit from Search. However, this does come with a caveat. Those who would pay the subscription fee for access to these AI features would still see ads according to the report.

It’s not clear if the number of ads shown would be the same or if they would be lessened as part of the subscription. Google also doesn’t have a price set at the moment. The reason why is that Google has yet to decide on whether or not it should charge for these AI features, people “familiar with Google plans” said. Google also reportedly hasn’t decided on what the charge should be if there were to be one. So right now, there’s no actual charge.

Some AI-powered features may roll out as free over time

Google may end up charging a fee for AI features in Search, but if it does, that doesn’t mean that all AI features will come with a subscription fee. The report states that “people familiar with its thinking” said Google may choose to roll out some AI features for the main free Search product over time. These could end up being the two features you can currently test in the Search Labs section. Or they could be different AI features entirely. Engineers are currently “developing the technology needed to deploy the service but executives have not yet made a final decision on whether or when to launch it.”

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