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What’s the Future of AI-Powered Powered Search Engines?

Reading Futurology on Reddit, I saw an incredibly bad take on AI-assisted search engines.

Google is a search engine, not an answer engine - Reddit User

This user saw no threat to Google’s current or future operating model. However my response is people are often searching for answers, but in hindsight maybe Google isn’t even a search engine - it’s an ad engine.


Current Search Environment

For a long time, Google has been the world's most popular and powerful search engine. The top English search engines are Google, Bing and Yahoo, according to a UK report by Statista, Google holds 92% of the search engine market share, Bing comes in second place with a market share of approximately 9.6% and Yahoo! has a market share of approximately 2.4%.


An illustration of a man working with a computer screen
Ai Chatbots will become more common in our everyday activities

The US Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google accusing the company of abusing its dominant position in the online search and digital advertising market to stifle competition and innovation. This was due to the alleged $8-12 Billion agreement with Apple to make Google the default search engine. Google Search is the company’s primary source of revenue and is expected to reach 55.6 billion in 2022.


Bing by comparison has always been a bit of a joke in the search engine world. Bing is a search engine created by Microsoft Bing was first released in 2009 and followed by the release of their digital assistance - Cortana - in 2014, providing users with assistance in tasks such as obtaining information from the web, scheduling reminders, and performing calculations. In 2022, Microsoft generated $11 billion from search revenue, up from $6.9 Billion in 2021.


Artificial intelligence has entered the chat

In late 2022, Chat GPT was released to the masses, quickly garnering 100 million users in the space of two months. This led Microsoft to allegedly invest a further $10 billion into OpenAI as a commercialisation partner.


For fear of being left behind, Google quickly issued a ‘Code Red’ alert and presented their own AI - Google Bard. Unfortunately, Google’s demonstration didn’t go to plan, they mixed their messaging with other Google products, the presenter couldn't demonstrate a mobile app and the chatbot got an answer wrong. The demo effectively led to a $100 billion reduction in share value and market capitalisation.


An abstract illustration of a Neural Network by Midjourney
An abstract illustration of a Neural Network by Midjourney

Microsoft rolled out BingChat on 7 February 2023 powered by OpenAI's GPT-4, and over a million users joined its waitlist within 48 hours. Bing Chat is only available to users of Microsoft Edge. Whilst impressive, it hasn’t been without its challenges, with reports that the chatbot had become unhinged. Whilst some of the interactions have been amusing - particularly with the use of chatbot’s emojis - it ultimately led to Microsoft ‘lobotmising’ the chatbot.


An AI Search Uptopia

Generative and conversational AI has a huge upside in disrupting the future of search engines. One of the upsides is that it’ll likely make search more competitive by distributing the search market more evening and reducing Google’s stranglehold.


For a long time, many have loathed the existing and changing algorithms that determine their page rank. Perhaps with AI, we'll see more nuanced results or bots that specialise in a particular field of research.


AI also has the potential to test the trustworthiness of certain sources to combat misinformation, with verified sources. This is something Google has slowly been trying to improve, allowing users to see the background of a source before clicking through.


AI comic book illustration of a Utopia by Midjourney
AI comic book illustration of a Utopia by Midjourney

Filter bubbles refer to a state of affairs where news that we don't appreciate or are against can be blocked out, potentially constricting the scope of what we're exposed to, and AI has the potential to improve the exposure or range of news we’re exposed to. Even Bill Gates - Founder of Microsoft - has raised concerns about filter bubbles in the past, so perhaps there is a chance BingChat may explore or address this issue.


AI-assisted search has the potential to educate us faster and more efficiently, I’ve already been impressed with how Bing analyses the question, and then provides you with the answer with multiple sources or references to the question, as opposed to the previous experience of opening multiple windows and having to read each individually.


Lastly, AI search could improve data privacy, DuckDuckGo prides itself on privacy but only has around 1% of the search market share. With a competitive AI chatbot, maybe more users will be enticed to the platform rather than their search data being sent to Google, Microsoft or marketing companies.


An AI Search Dystopia

An AI future isn’t without its drawbacks, there are many scenarios where the AI can benefit the user but continues to benefit the platform owners more, either through ad revenue or data mining.


As mentioned earlier Google generates over 50% of its revenue from search advertising. You often see this with sponsored search results appearing at the top of the page, but in an AI dystopia, maybe you’ll only ever be given sponsored pages as the primary answer to your question.


An illustration of a woman
An AI comic book illustration of a dystopia by Midjourney

Or perhaps - as we’ve seen with ChatGPT introducing a paid service - access to receive non-sponsored search results from the AI assistant will be restricted through a subscription.

Google has faced criticism over the years that their PageRank algorithm unfairly favours established sites through the priority of backlinks which some argue limits the visibility and viability of new voices, opinions and news sources. A challenge for AI will be exploring ways in which the answer given is credible and informative but also broadens the perspective of the reader.


The final concern is data privacy. Several large organisations have already limited access to ChatGPT for fear of sensitive client information being fed into OpenAI with little visibility of how that data may be used. Google has actively said it doesn’t sell user search data, however, it does make the data visible via its Google Analytics and Trends platforms.


Final Thoughts

AI tools have advanced rapidly over the past year, providing fast answers and inspiration. While these responses can sometimes be inaccurate or unhelpful, integration is necessary to ensure accuracy and relevance.


I am confident that competition on the search platform and quicker, more efficient responses can benefit users.


Nevertheless, reliable, informative, and ethical information is essential. Without measures to combat misinformation, pay-per-view results, and data sales, we risk entering an AI Search Dystopia.


Have you used AI-assisted search tools? Will Google always be your go-to, or are you open to new platforms?


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