Google Maps is getting ‘supercharged’ with generative AI

Google is bringing generative AI to — where else? — Google Maps, promising to help users find cool places through the use of large language models (LLM).

The feature will answer queries for restaurant or shopping recommendations, for example, using its LLM to “analyze Maps’ detailed information about more than 250 million places and trusted insights from our community of over 300 million contributors to quickly make suggestions for where to go.”

Google says the feature will first become available in the US, but there’s no word yet on when other countries will also get it.

It’s a natural place for Google to flex its AI muscles

It’s a natural place for Google to flex its AI muscles, as the company has been laboring for years to turn its flagship navigation product into something that more closely resembles a search tool for discovering new places — rather than just a place to get directions. Using its expertise generative AI to accelerate that transition seems like a logical next step.

The examples Google provides of its generative AI search feature in use are very Google:

Let’s say you’re visiting San Francisco and want to plan a few hours of thrifting for unique vintage finds. Just ask Maps what you’re looking for, like “places with a vintage vibe in SF.” Our AI models will analyze Maps’ rich information about nearby businesses and places along with photos, ratings and reviews from the Maps community to give you trustworthy suggestions.

Google says it’s starting small with this first integration, working collaboratively with the company’s Local Guides community of contributors to ensure that generative AI is employed thoughtfully. That means only these contributors will initially have access to the generative AI feature in Google Maps. The company will then open it up to other users at a later date.

Local Guides, which have been around since at least 2019, are described as “a global community of explorers who write reviews, share photos, answer questions, add or edit places, and check facts on Google Maps.”

It’s unclear how much different this will be than, say, just searching “vintage store SF” in the regular Google Maps search bar. My guess is the response will be more conversational in that chatbot style with which we’re slowly becoming familiar, rather than just providing a list of vintage shops in order of proximity.

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