Google I/O 2024

At Google’s annual developer conference last year, I/O 2023, Google kicked into overdrive on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Just six months prior, in November 2022, fellow tech company OpenAI had unleashed its ChatGPT chatbot and it very quickly made a massive impact in the digital world. That signalled the start of something quite pivotal in the world of search: Google’s top executives issued a “code red” – an internal memo signalling that the new generative AI tool was potentially a threat and required both and urgent response and a significant realignment of company resources.

That backdrop made the tone and direction of I/O 2023 very clear – Google, known for its search and other tech, needed to pivot rapidly, and become known primarily as an AI company.

From the outset, Google made I/O 2023 AI-centric, with the key messaging that the company was “making AI helpful for everyone”. Touting AI’s inclusion in everything from wearables to phones, and search, Google took its behind-the-scenes AI models and brought them to the forefront of the business and therefore the public’s attention.

But what of IO 2024, primarily a developer conference, and what was in it for digital marketers?

The Gemini Era

Once again, this year’s developer conference placed AI in the spotlight. The term “making AI helpful for everyone” was wheeled out a number of times, and there was another huge marketing push; Google wanted us all to know that we are in “The Gemini Era”.

Only yesterday, OpenAI announced its latest release, ChatGPT 4o – that’s an “o” and not a zero – it stands for Omni. The latest iteration of the chatbot can now understand and create audio, video, and images.

Demonstrating ChatGPT 4o, founder Sam Altman showed off the convincingly human conversational abilities of his latest model. And the timing was not insignificant – the day before Google’s developer conference.

Google has attempted to reframe the narrative and position itself as the world’s number one AI company, hence stating more than once, as have we, that we are in “The Gemini Era”.

What’s Changed Since Last Year?

I/O 2023 saw the release of the chatbot Google Bard. It was a great alternative to ChatGPT, but some people questioned the name. And so, less than a year after its launch, Bard was renamed Gemini, the name of the underlying AI model.

Now, Gemini 1.5 Pro is on general release and Gemini Advanced is available as a premium service. Over a million people have already signed up to Gemini Advanced in just 3 months.

The concept of multimodality was a key message with Google CEO Sundar Pinchai keen for us all to know that Gemini 1.5 can process multiple inputs such as text, audio and video.

The other important takeaway was that Gemini 1.5 does “long context”, so you can ask it convoluted questions and it has the ability to completely understand, weaving all threads of a query into a unified answer.

Josh Woodward, the VP of Google Labs, demonstrated the new Audio Overview. He took a collection of documents uploaded to an instance of Google NotebookLM, a personalised language model, and generated an audio discussion around the content. The generated language was very natural, very conversational, and you can even interrupt it, so that it responds seamlessly.

And here Google introduced its AI Agents. Soon we will be able to ask an AI agent to take tasks off our hands, like handling all the steps to return a pair of shoes to the seller (Search your inbox, find the receipt, locate the order number, complete a return form and arrange for the pickup – all very impressive)

Questioning What We See

Demis Hassabis, the founder of DeepMind, made an appearance to discuss a lighter AI model, Gemini Flash. A video concluding his presentation involved a DeepMind staffer using their phone and AI assistant to identify their environment.

Asked what was in the phone camera view, Gemini Flash correctly identified equipment that created sound (a speaker), was able to detail the item on screen that the user circle with their finger (a tweeter), and then, looking out of the window, described the neighbourhood as Kings Cross, London, the HQ of DeepMind.

Finally, the user asked where they’d left their glasses, and the AI recalled what it had scanned through it screen and located the pair of glasses as next to the red apple on the desk. Of course, the glasses were  donned, and the questioning continued as everything in the glasses became the new lens for queries – is Google Glass making a comeback?

AI, Search, and Digital Marketing

As a digital marketing agency, this was the part of the conference that’s most relevant to our company and our customers.

Liz Reid, Google’s VP of Search, really piqued our interest. One of the first engineers that helped build Google Local, Reid now shapes the future of Google Search.

A couple of bold assertions came out here, such as:

“Search will do more for you than you ever imagined.”

And the enigmatic and recursive:

“Google will do the Googling for you.”

Reid promised a new Gemini model customised for Google Search that has

  1. Real time information with over a trillion facts about people, places, and things.
  2. An “unparalleled ranking system” and
  3. New agent capabilities.

There you go, AI Agents again.

AI Overviews were another feature of the new search, and it looked a lot like what they promised last year in everything but name. Not once did Google mention Search Generative Experience (SGE) that was so common last year.

Multi-step reasoning is going to be big in search, with users soon to be able to ask complex questions. The demo query on Reid’s big screen was:

“Find the best yoga or Pilates studios in Boston and show details on their intro offers and walking time from Beacon Hill.”

If you’d put that query into Google Search earlier today, you’d get a jumble of responses as you’re asking multiple questions all at once. Now, you’d probably get some blog posts featuring the question from I/O 2024.

Gemini for Search is now finding all the sources for the complex query and “pulling it all together” – that’s the multi-step reasoning.

Reid went further and demonstrated planning in search, prompting:

“Create a 3-day meal plan for a group that is easy to prepare”

The result was an AI results page, a 3 day meal plan, complete with recipes, custom-built for the user. The query was modified with the addition of:

“And make it veggie friendly”

Lo and behold, the page changed dynamically to keep the vegetarian-friendly meals with the meat dinners dropped, and substitute meals in their place.

Ask with Video

To top off the search section of the conference, Google’s VP of Product, Rose Yao, filmed her turntable malfunctioning. She asked her phone why her record player was not working and the search results correctly identified the make and model of the turntable, the malfunctioning piece (The arm), and continued to suggest what might be wrong, how to fix it, and even provided links to the manufacturer’s handbook.


And that was the search section of the conference wrapped up.

Preview it All – In Google Labs

Of course, all these new features can be previewed in Google Labs.

Except that Google Labs is not available in the UK. We found this out last year when we tried on multiple occasions to gain access to SGE, to no avail.

And so, we must wait to see when these new AI-powered searches become publicly available in the UK.

The Implications

So, we’re in The Gemini Era, huh? What does that mean for us all?

As a digital marketing agency, we focus a lot on SEO services, and it appears that things are going to change again.

Search has already evolved from a list of ten text item, 25 years ago, to now include contextual options such as the local pack, images, maps, videos, and other various “cards” or “knowledge panels”.

With users soon having the chance to ask more natural questions, they’ll be writing more conversational queries, and even talking to their phones as if they were finally the digital assistants we’ve been waiting for.

Our clients are going to have to be ever more mindful about how their own customers search, their intent, and their questions. Voice search, after being “the next big thing” a few years ago before slipping into the background, is suddenly a thing again.

As the experts in digital, we’re going to have to continue what we’re doing and produce websites with content that makes then ever more discoverable.

Bring it on!

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