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5 key takeaways about Google from its ‘CEO’ Prabhakar Raghavan

Prabhakar Raghavan holds significant sway over Google, and by extension, our lives. The Senior Vice President is responsible for search, ads, commerce, maps, payments, and Google Assistant. He opens up about the opportunity, the pandemic, fighting misinformation and more.

June 01, 2021 / 11:30 AM IST
There are already a number of ways to pull up Google Assistant on Android phones, Google is working on one more.

There are already a number of ways to pull up Google Assistant on Android phones, Google is working on one more.

Everyone knows Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google parent Alphabet. Few know of Prabhakar Raghavan. Surprisingly so. Raghavan runs search, ads, commerce, maps, payments, and Google Assistant- businesses that bring in a bulk of its revenue and affect all our lives significantly.

He’s not its CEO, but he may well be, given that he oversees 20,000 Googlers and holds significant authority, according to an interview with Wired, his first interview since becoming Senior Vice President. The India-born IIT-educated executive spoke about misinformation, use of AI, Larry Page’s role, and more. Here are some of the key takeaways.

Google is doubling down on fighting misinformation- Internet platforms have long avoided becoming the arbiter of truth, but have turned to do so increasingly. Google wants to show users what they are looking for, but if the user is actively looking for misinformation, Google wants the user to be clear about that.

“And then trust you to figure it out. So one of the things we're doubling down on is a feature you may have just started to notice called About This Result. Which is to say, you ask this query, here's a result, and by tapping here, you can find out more about the source: how long we have been indexing this site; what others are saying about it,” Raghavan said.

Google doesn’t rule out crypto ambitions- When asked whether Google would launch a cryptocurrency, Raghavan said he wouldn’t like to speculate, but did not confirm or rule out any crypto plans.


Robots make calls to restaurants to update Google Maps- During the pandemic, Google had to make “millions of updates” just on opening times at various places- restaurants, museums, hotels, tourist spots. To call and make these updates, Google uses Duplex, an AI-powered voice that sounds like a human and is capable of having basic conversations.

“'This is the Google Duplex robot. We're curious whether you've changed your hours.”  And there's a little bit of dialog. “What about on Saturdays?'” Raghavan said

Larry Page’s role at Google- Google co-founder Larry Page, after stepping down from daily leadership has been an enigma, and many have been unclear about his involvement and role at Alphabet.

“He does surface, typically at board meetings. Other than that, there is a very rare email where he gets involved and makes some very pointed remarks on a product feature. When he says something, it's deeply insightful. And you're like, 'Oh my God, what did he just say? I need to think hard about it!'” is how Raghavan puts it.

Having the same background as Sundar Pichai may not really help- Raghavan and Pichai are both South Indian, and alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology (Madras and Kharagpur respectively), but that may not necessarily lead to a better equation between the two of them.

“I don't know if being from similar backgrounds necessarily helps. We have similarities, and we have our differences. I have more of a technical pedigree, he has more of a business pedigree than I do. And so I can sometimes get caught up in the details of the model. He's very deliberate, always staging things out from so many different angles. I try to be as thoughtful as he is,” he said.
M. Sriram
first published: Jun 1, 2021 11:30 am

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