Who makes money when AI reads the internet for us?

Last week, The Browser Company, a startup that makes the Arc web browser, released a new iPhone app called Arc Search. Instead of displaying links, its all-new “Browse for Me” feature reads the first handful of pages and summarizes them into a single, personalized web page, in Arc format, using large language models from OpenAI and others. If a user clicks on one of the actual pages, Arc Search blocks ads, cookies, and trackers by default. Arc's efforts to reinvent web browsing have received almost universal recognition. But in recent days, “Browse for Me” earned The Browser Company its first reaction online.

For decades, websites have served ads and tricked people who visited them into paying subscriptions. Monetizing traffic is one of the primary ways that most creators on the web continue to make a living. Reducing the need for people to visit real websites deprives these creators of compensation for their work and discourages them from publishing anything.

“Web creators try to share their knowledge and be supported in this process”, tweeted Ben Goodger, a software engineer who helped create Firefox and Chrome. “I understand how much this helps users. How does this help creators? Without them, there is no Web…” After all, if a Web browser extracted all the information from Web pages without users actually needing to visit them, why would anyone bother creating websites in the first place?

This backlash prompted the company's co-founder and CEO, Josh Miller, to question the fundamental nature of how the web is monetized. Miller, who previously served as chief product officer at the White House and worked at Facebook after the acquisition of his previous startup, Branch, said Goodger on X, the way creators monetize web pages needs to evolve. He also has said PlatformCasey Newton of Casey Newton believes that generative AI presents an opportunity to “shake up the stagnant oligopoly that runs much of the web today”, but admitted that he doesn't know how the writers and creators who have created the website on which his browser retrieves would be paid. . “It completely disrupts the economics of publishing on the Internet,” he admitted.

Miller declined to speak to Engadget, and The Browser Company did not respond to Engadget's questions.

Arc has set itself apart from other web browsers by fundamentally rethinking the way web browsers look and work since its release to the general public in July last year. To do this, it added features like the ability to split multiple tabs vertically and offer a picture-in-picture mode for Google Meet video conferences. But for several months, Arc has been quick add AI-powered features like automatic web page summaries, ChatGPT integration, and the ability for users to switch their default search engine to Perplexity, a Google rival that uses AI to provide answers to search queries by summarizing web pages in a chat-like interface and providing tiny citations to sources. The “Browse for Me” feature places Arc right in the middle of one of the AIs. the biggest ethical dilemmas: Who pays creators when AI products rip off and reuse their content?

“The best thing about the Internet is that someone who is very passionate about something creates a website about what they love,” tech entrepreneur and blogging pioneer Anil Dash told Engadget. “This new Intermediate Arc feature and decreases that.” In a job on Threads shortly after Arc released the app, Dash criticized modern search engines and AI chatbots that sucked up content from the Internet and aimed to prevent people from visiting websites, calling them “deeply destructive “.

It's easy, Dash said, to blame the pop-ups, cookies and intrusive ads that power the economic engine of the modern web for why browsing now seems broken. And there may be signs that users welcome the idea of ​​having their presented information summarized by large language models rather than manually clicking through multiple web pages. Thursday, Miller tweeted that people chose “Browse for me” over traditional Google search in Arc Search on mobile for approximately 32% of all queries. The company is currently working on making it the default search experience and integrating it into its desktop browser as well.

“It’s not intellectually honest to say it’s better for users,” Dash said. “We are only focused on the short-term benefits for users and not on the idea that users want to be fully informed about the impact they are having on the entire digital ecosystem by doing this.” Succinctly summarizing this double-edged sword, one food blogger tweeted at Miller, “As a consumer, it's great. As a blogger, I'm a little scared.”

Last week, Matt Karolian, the Boston Globe's vice president of platforms, research and development, entered “top Boston news” into Arc Search and clicked “Browse for me.” Within seconds, the app scanned local Boston news sites and presented a list of headlines containing local developments and weather updates. “News Agencies Will Lose Their Shit Over Arc Search,” Karolian job on the discussions. “It will read your journalism, summarize it for the user… and if the user clicks on a link, it will block the ads.”

Local news publishers, Karolian told Engadget, depend almost entirely on selling ads and subscriptions to readers who visit their websites to survive. “When tech platforms come in and disintermediate that experience without regard for the impact it might have, it’s deeply disappointing.” Arc Search includes important links and citations to the websites it summarizes from. But Karolian said that was irrelevant. “It doesn’t take into account the consequences of what happens when you launch products like this.”

Arc Search is not the only service using AI to summarize information from web pages. Google, the world's largest search engine, now offers AI-generated summaries for user queries at the top of its search results, which experts have done previously called “a bit like dropping a bomb right in the center of the information link.” Arc Search, however, goes further and eliminates search results altogether. Meanwhile, Miller continued to tweet throughout the controversy, posting vague thoughts on websites in an “AI-driven internet” while simultaneously launching products based on concepts it admittedly hasn’t yet understood.

On a recent episode of The Vergecast on which Miller appeared, he compared what Arc Search could do to the web economy to what Craigslist did to the business models of print newspapers. “I think it's absolutely true that Arc Search and the fact that we're cutting out the clutter and the BS, making you faster and getting what you need in a lot less time, is objectively good for the vast majority of people, And It’s also true that it breaks something,” he says. “This breaks the exchange of values ​​a little. We're in the grip of a revolution in the way software and computers work, and it's going to mess up some things. »

Karolian of The globe said the behavior of tech companies applying AI to web content reminded him of a monologue delivered by Ian Malcolm, one of the protagonists of jurassic park to park creator John Hammond about applying the power of technology without considering its impact: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they wouldn't stop if they could.” were to. »

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