Does AI threaten the future of Google Search?

Does AI threaten the future of Google Search?
Last year, Google Search and other web-based Google properties, which span many countries and languages, accounted for $149 billion in revenues. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 22 December 2022

Does AI threaten the future of Google Search?

Does AI threaten the future of Google Search?
  • Some experts believe emerging technology such as ChatGPT and Noor could challenge Google’s dominance
  • The latest AI bots certainly have the potential to revolutionize web searches but, for now at east, they have limitations

LONDON: Google Search is in peril, some people believe. The ubiquitous search engine, which has been the gateway to the internet for billions of people worldwide for the past two decades, faces “existential threats,” they say, that are forcing parent company Alphabet’s management to declare a “code red.”

“Google may be only a year or two away from total disruption,” Paul Buchheit, a Gmail developer wrote in a message posted on Twitter this month. “(Artificial Intelligence) will eliminate the search engine result page, which is where they make most of their money.”

Buchheit continued by predicting that AI could transform and replace the internet-search industry in much the same way the way Google effectively destroyed the formerly successful Yellow Pages model of printed telephone directories of businesses, which had thrived for many decades.

AI and chatbot services such as ChatGPT are already beginning to revolutionize the way people carry out research online by providing users with an unprecedented level of convenience and speed.

Unlike traditional search engines, which rely on keyword-matching to provide results, AI chatbots use advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence to understand the deeper intent behind a user’s query.

As a result, ChatGPT is capable of responding to more complex requests, building simple codes, working out difficult issues, and chatting in a relatively human-like manner. Contrast this with Google, which can only provides users with the links and tools they need to carry out detailed research themselves.

Because the results are shown in real time and more accurately reflect what is actually being asked, natural language processing services such as ChatGPT provide access to all the information users require, through a conversational AI interface, in a fraction of the time it would take them to manually search for it.

In other words, as many experts have been quick to point out, ChatGPT performs many similar tasks to Google — only better.

Google is one of several businesses, research facilities and experts who have contributed to the development of ChatGPT, which stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer. It is a groundbreaking collaborative project spearheaded by a research lab called OpenAI, which is also behind DALL-E, an AI-powered system that generates images from natural language descriptions provided by a user.

Although Google’s own search engine already exploits the power of AI in an effort to enhance the service it provides and deliver more relevant results to users, some experts believe the tech giant might struggle to compete with the newer, smaller companies developing these AI chatbots, because of the many ways the technology could hurt its existing business model.

In April, the Technology Innovation Institute, a cutting-edge research hub in Abu Dhabi, unveiled a service similar to ChatGPT, called Noor. The biggest Arabic-language natural language processing model to date, it is intended to provide the Arab region with a competitive edge in the field, given that technologies such as chatbots, market intelligence, and machine translation traditionally have tended to significantly favor English- and Chinese-language markets.

Last year, Google Search and other web-based Google properties, which span many countries and languages, accounted for $149 billion in revenues. The disruptive power of services such as ChatGPT and Noor therefore could represent a significant blow to Google’s parent company Alphabet and its business model.

“The potential for something like OpenAI’s ChatGPT to eventually supplant a search engine like Google isn’t a new idea but this delivery of OpenAI’s underlying technology is the closest approximation yet to how that would actually work in a fully fleshed out system, and it should have Google scared,” TechCrunch US managing editor Darrell Etherington wrote this month.

However, it is still early days and, as Jacob Carpenter points out, “the idea of upstart AI firms supplanting Google feels premature” given Alphabet can call on its significant resources to help see off any potential competition.

ChatGPT, described as the most advanced AI chatbot in the market, is available in several regions and supports a variety of languages, including Arabic. However, despite the enormous advances it undoubtedly represents, limitations remain.

In its current form, ChatGPT is unable to access the internet or other external sources of information, which means it cannot respond to or provide geo-based recommendations.

Moreover, the training data for its model only goes up to 2021, so the program often offers incorrect or biased answers, which means the service, at least for now, is not a reliable source of information.

Although the buzz generated by ChatGPT and Noor is likely to attract users and investors, which will help the technology to further develop, significant skepticism remains as to whether such AI chatbots will ever be able to do to Google Search what Google Search did to Yellow Pages.

For all the lofty claims from some experts about the potential of advanced-language models — and although it is important to recognize that they do offer distinct advantages, enhanced abilities and a different user experience to existing Google services that has the potential to revolutionize the way we search for things on the web — it is also important to be aware that even the developers of ChatGPT have said the technology is “not a direct competitor to Google Search and is not likely to replace it.”