Google's new AI search feature has been recommending people drink urine ('light in color')

Google headquarters is seen in Mountain View, California, United States on September 26, 2022.
(Image credit: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Google's revolutionising the search engine game using AI... obviously. And that means it's giving out worse advice than you'll find a president espousing during a global pandemic. Okay, it wasn't suggesting you inject bleach, but just prior to a full launch as Google's new AI Overviews feature it was recommending users drink a couple of litres of specifically light-coloured urine.

This was during its initial Lab testing phase, where it was called the Search Generative Experience (SGE), but it was still recommending the drinking of urine as an effective method for quickly passing kidney stones a week or so before Google announced it was rolling the feature out across the US.

Now called AI Overviews, the feature—which essentially seems to be replacing Featured Snippets at the top of a Google search page—is kicking off in the US first, with other territories "coming soon."

Even apart from the dodgy AI-driven advice, we're not really here for it. To us it really looks like Google is intent on breaking the internet it helped create, and not for the benefit of anyone apart from itself. But because it is based on current generative AI technology, with all its flaws, you are going to get more erroneous advice than you would if it was just serving up different pages with actual authority and expertise for you to go check out yourself.

Instead, it's doing the classic AI thing of presenting completely incorrect information as factually accurate with complete confidence in its fuzzy thinking. As one user states looking for ways to disable these overviews: "I'm more than capable of misinterpreting internet articles on my own."

Google has learned some things in its Lab phase, however, and our own experts have seen it generating fewer AI Overviews than in testing, and it's more readily citing its sources, too. It's also gotten smaller than it was in earlier iterations, so it's not taking up as much search page real estate.

But still, with its focus on so-called 'how to' content, AI's propensity to confidently dish out the wrong information isn't great. And I'd expect to see more weird, hilarious, or even worrying recommendations from AI Overviews as Google attempts to sharpen up its search experience.

Now it's no longer an opt-in service and is going to just be part of Google whether we want it or not, how do we avoid getting the bad AI advice? Sadly there's no standard way to just disable AI Overviews specifically, but there are workarounds. Bleeping Computer has noted a way to force Google to always just show you web search results without any generative AI shenanigans getting involved, and Tom's Hardware has gone into detail, too. 

It's a bit of a nuclear option, however, because while it will get rid of AI Overviews it also kills any video, image, or snippets which can actually be useful. It just focuses the address bar of your browser on the Web results of Google—kinda like the good ol' days of Google—and you can make that happen by…

Editing Google Web site search into the Chrome browser

(Image credit: Future)
  •       Open Chrome, click the three-dot menu up in the top right of the window and select Settings
  •       Click the Search Engine entry in the left-hand menu
  •       Click on the Manage search engines and site search entry to reveal the full-screen
  •       Click on Add next to the Site Search menu
  •       In the dialog that pops up, give the new search engine a title and a shortcut name
  •       Add the following into the URL field: {google:baseURL}/search?udm=14&q=%s
  •       Click Add
  •       Next to the new Site Search you've now created, click the vertical three-dot menu and select Make default
  •       It will now move up into the Search Engines area and be noted as (Default)
  •       Close the settings screen and search from the address bar as normal

There are also Chrome extensions you can install from the Chrome Web Store, with four different options available at the moment. The Hide Google AI Overviews one at least still allows for snippets to be presented, so isn't quite the kill switch the manual method is.

Dave James
Managing Editor, Hardware

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.