Searcher Beware: ChatGTP, Microsoft, Google, and Bard 

There was recently a lot of buzz surrounding Microsoft’s heralding of ChatGPT, which is an AI technology that Microsoft is incorporating into their search engine Bing.  Google responded by announcing the release of Bard, which will add analogous AI enhancements to their own search engine.

I dabbled with some of the new technology, and my top 3 takeaways were this:

1.) If this had all occurred circa 1998, the value would be much higher.  But after 20+ years of people using search engines, we have already built up a native understanding of how search engines workWe have a native understanding of how to parse through search results, get what we want, follow-up on what we want, and so on.  At this point, it’s not really a burden to us, and it tends to facilitate us getting what we want, as quickly as possible.

If someone wants to try to synthesize those search results for me in a natural-sounding language, that’s great, but I imagine I’ll often want to dissect it back into its original pieces (i.e. the search results we’re all familiar with) and just process this at a lower level (i.e. the search results we’re all familiar with), to maintain a higher degree of search fidelity.

As an analogy, over the course of many years a software engineer will eventually build up a native understanding of a particular programming language.  Although there are certain scenarios where it would be useful to have a technology where a programmer can speak in a natural-sounding language to a computer, and have it spit out code, or conversely, have someone explain existing code in a natural-sounding language, often times that’s just not optimal and in fact it’s painful.

The best use cases for this type of technology were, to the best of my knowledge, actually being played out in cars and even homes years ago.  When you’re in a car and need a hands-free search, this is very useful.  When someone is not tech-savvy, this can be very useful.

You just have to take those synthesized search results with an extra grain of salt, and you accept that potential loss of precision and accuracy, because you’re driving and at that moment that’s the best you’ll be able to do.

The bottom line is classic search results, and the need for them, will never go away.  Many times we will prefer them.  In a lot of cases, we need them.  To articulate what should be a simple, canonical example of this truth, if one wanted a 2nd or 3rd medical opinion, they would not want a clever intermediary to synthesize the net cacophony of all those doctors’ voices.  To the contrary, they would want to hear the entirety of each opinion, and they would want each opinion siloed.

2.) Beware of insidious errors!

For reasons unknown to me, one of these new, state-of-the-art technologies refused to “talk like Sub-Zero ”.

OK, so then I asked a more modest follow-up question, at which point it rattled off some synthesized information, and buried in the middle of that synthesized information was the worst type of error possible.

Relative to its context, it was a critical error, but it was not an obvious error.

Nothing drew any attention to this error.  It was very inconspicuous.

It would not be immediately obvious to anyone else what your misconception is.  Instead, they would assume your sense of humor was just kind of off, you were acting kind of strange, etc.  They would not feel compelled to stop and correct you.

There is very little in the ambient environment that would cue you to the fact that you are mistaken!

Indeed, it is the type of error that you can have in your head for decades until you finally realize that you have it wrong!

It had claimed that Sub-Zero was the “main character” in the Mortal Kombat franchise.

And, if someone were using a search engine as they normally would, I don’t believe they would ever come to that conclusion.

3.) The top search companies will compete as they normally do.  Anything is possible, but there is little reason to expect this will fundamentally change the search engine landscape.

People noted that Bard got a question wrong.  For reference, when I used ChatGPT, most of the answers were wrong, or had one or more significant inaccuracies within the answer.  Not surprisingly, this all reflects what we get in our normal search results, and have a native understanding of how to deal with.  So in closing, I would also add that I don’t expect these AI enhancements to fundamentally change the accuracy of our searches.