In antitrust trial, Google argues that smart employees explain its success

In antitrust trial, Google argues that smart employees explain its success

In its conflicted confrontations with the government, the pillar of Google’s defense has been that innovation — not restrictive contracts, backed by billions in payments to industry partners — explains its success as an Internet search giant.

It says its competitive advantage lies in having talented people who are working tirelessly to improve its products.

Pandu Nayak, Google’s first witness in the antitrust trial that began last month, is the face of that defense.

Mr. Nayak, Vice President of Exploration, was raised in India and graduated at the top of his class from one of that country’s elite technical schools. He came to America, got a Ph.D. Earned. in computer science at Stanford University and then spent seven years as a research scientist on artificial intelligence projects at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

Nineteen years ago, Mr. Nayak joined Google and found an especially welcoming workplace full of professional friends. “After all, Google is a technology company – it really values ​​the skills I have,” Mr Nayak said in his testimony on Wednesday.

The computer scientist’s testimony is an attempt to rebut a central argument in the case filed by the Justice Department and 38 states and territories. Their lawsuit claims scale is necessary to prevent competition in search. That is, the more data a search engine collects from user queries, the more it learns to improve its service, which attracts even more users, advertisers, and advertising revenue. That flywheel, the suit says, is driven by an ever-increasing amount of user data.

The government and states claim Google gives Apple a huge data advantage through exclusive contracts and payments of more than $10 billion a year to Apple, Samsung and others to become the default search engine on smartphones and personal computer browsers.

A slim man with wispy gray hair who spoke in clipped, slightly accented English, Mr. Nayak has a professorial style, and has taught graduate courses at Stanford. Much of his testimony was basically a tutorial on search technology and its evolution, directed by Google lawyer, Kenneth Smerzynski.

Mr Nayak led a long series of research advancements at Google that improved search quality, including developments in machine learning, deep learning, Transformers and large language models – the force behind AI-powered chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. Technology of.

The evolution Mr Nayak traced was one in which innovations in language understanding have become increasingly important for gains in search quality, while the sheer volume of search queries has become less important.

At one point, Mr. Nayak cited a change where using one-third less data “resulted in no meaningful degradation in search quality.” Smart software, he suggested, matters more than more data.

In testimony earlier this week, Michael Winston, a Justice Department economic expert, estimated that Google’s special deals blocked rivals from getting between a third and a half of all user search queries in the United States.

“The power of default is very important,” said Mr. Winston, the economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mr. Winston based his analysis on internal documents provided by Google, Microsoft, DuckDuckGo and other search services to determine his estimate of the “foreclosure rate” resulting from the Google contracts.

In his cross-examination, Google’s lead lawyer, John Schmidlein, said that exclusive contracts were common in the search business. But Mr Winston said the size of Google’s deals was surprising.

“When you see Google paying billions and billions and billions, there has to be a reason for it,” he said. “As an economist this is the first thing that slaps me in the face.”

In his testimony, Mr. Nayak discussed the investments Google has made in search, including assembling and constantly updating a massive index of the web that includes hundreds of billions of documents, and a network of 16,000 human raters around the world. Involves employing forces who assess relevance. and reliability of search results.

Kenneth Dintzer, the Justice Department’s lead lawyer, pushed Mr. Nayak to admit that Google’s improvements in search depend on vast amounts of user data — far more than its nearest rival, Microsoft’s Bing.

Mr Nayak acknowledged that the data was important, but he stuck to Google’s defence. “Bigger is not necessarily better,” he said.

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