The Assistant No One Asked For

In my post from last year, The trinity: enshitification, tip inflation, and shrinkflation, a characteristic of enshitification is the removal of useful features, and the imposition of features no one wants and are annoying. There is no permission; users have no say in this process in what features are added or removed. It just happens.

‘Enshitification’ describe the gradual degradation and deterioration of services, such as due to intrusive ads and or unwanted features or useful features being disabled. Although not technically a form of price inflation, if time is money, then time wasted watching/skipping ads or disabling features does impose a cost.

Today’s enshitification victim: Google

Google’s search assistant–AI Overview–went live this week. By default, Google now displays an ‘AI results’ overlay on the top of every search result. Evidently there is no way to opt-out. It can only be hidden through various hacks or short-cuts. No one asked for this feature, and given all the inquiry on how to disable it, as shown below, evidently no one wants it either.

What makes this feature so bad is not only is there no way to remove it, which is a sin unto itself, but it occupies what little precious real estate remains of Google’s search results page. Second, there is nothing about the search assistant that is even useful or demonstrative of the capabilities of AI.

The word ‘intelligence’ suggests some ability to reason or to infer, but the information generated by the assistant is an amalgamation of other search results stitched together, like of Wikipedia, into a bland, generic summary written with no specific user in mind as if copying GPT-4 but minus all the useful or cool stuff. Or in other words, it’s more like a web scraper than AI.

Google has long stopped being a search engine and is basically a homepage or a portal, full of clutter and distractions. Google realized, correctly, that the vast majority of people who use Google are not trying to make detailed searches, which would necessitate an actual search engine. They just want information about broad topics, typically of a topical or time-sensitive nature, like movie screenings.

Yet Google has clearly crossed some line here. It’s one thing to launch new features and nudge users to use them, with the option to opt-out, but this is the next level of obstructiveness and annoyingness. It’s basically like the malware of the early 2000s that hijacks your browser, and similar to such viruses, it brands itself as an ‘assistant’, one that no one asked for.