Will the AI chatbots eat into Google’s lucrative business?

How will the rise of the next big thing-the artificial intelligence (AI) reshape the technology industry? Will AI affect Google’s supremacy as a search engine? Nothing lasts forever, particularly in technology, finds an in-depth report by Sunny Sharma

Artificial intelligence, which can create novel content from text to audio to images to user prompts, is already making an impact and has fuelled fears it could replace a number of jobs. Google raked in $54.48 billion in advertising revenue in the most recent quarter, representing 78.9% of its gross sales. Search ads were the biggest driver by far.

Until recently you might have used Google to search for an answer to that question. But now you have another option: to ask an AI-powered chatbot, which lets you gather information from the internet through typed conversations. ChatGPT, the leading example, can write essays, explain complex concepts, answer trivia questions and suggest menus or holiday destinations. By the end of January 2023, two months after its launch, it was being used by more than 100million people, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history, noted The Economist, a British weekly.

Google introduced its search engine in 1998, powered by its signature PageRank algorithm, which measured each website’s importance by the ways other sites linked to it. It quickly became the dominant search tool. Google has spent decades indexing the web, and the breadth of queries it can field is unmatched.

In recent years, Google has taken steps to help users conduct searches in new ways, including through the lens of their smartphone camera and with image and text combined. It uses large language models to understand users’ queries and has also incorporated the technology into its “featured snippets,” which spotlight key information on search results pages.

Worried, Google and Microsoft are going head-to-head on the future of search, leveraging the technology behind artificial intelligence chatbots. Google has already announced that it is testing Bard, a competitor to the Microsoft-backed ChatGPT that has quickly become a sensation, and will be rolling it out to the public in the coming weeks. Microsoft, which has just integrated ChatGPT into its search engine, Bing, certainly hopes so. Could this be a Schumpeterian moment in which incumbents are toppled and rivals seize the initiative? The answer depends on moral choices, monetisation and monopoly economics. But a hugely valuable prize—to become the new front door to the internet—may be up for grabs.

For more than 25 years, search engines have been the internet’s front door. AltaVista, the first site to allow searches of the full text of the web, was swiftly dethroned by Google, which has dominated the field in most of the world ever since. Google’s search engine has made its parent, Alphabet, one of the world’s most valuable companies, with revenues of $283bn in 2022 and a market capitalization of $1.3trillion. Google is not merely a household name but an extremely successful business model.

But nothing lasts forever, particularly in technology. Just ask IBM, which once ruled business computing, or Nokia, once the leader in mobile phones. Both were dethroned because they fumbled on big technological transitions. Now tech firms are salivating over an innovation that might herald a similar shift — and a similar opportunity. Chatbots powered by AI let users gather information via typed conversations. Leading the field is Chatgpt, made by Openai, a startup.

By the end of January, two months after its launch, Chatgpt was being used by more than 100m people, making it the “fastest-growing consumer application in history”, according to UBS, a bank. ChatGPT, developed by San Francisco-based OpenAI, has reached 100 million users since its public launch in November.

Microsoft is now integrating the technology behind it into its products, with the Bing search engine being a focal point. Response to ChatGPT shows there is an appetite for AI-powered search and Microsoft clearly sees this as a competitive opportunity, as does Google, judging by its quick response. Google also believes that users increasingly want to access information in more natural, intuitive ways like Google Lens, which allows people to search using images and text.

Bard and ChatGPT are both based on so-called large language models. Google’s is called LaMDA, an acronym for “Language Model for Dialogue Applications”. These are types of neural networks that mimic the underlying architecture of the brain in computer form. They are fed vast amounts of text from the Internet in a process that teaches them to generate responses to text-based prompts. This allows ChatGPT to provide credible-sounding answers to questions about composing couplets, writing resumes, or, in what is probably the biggest panic it’s caused yet, academic work. Google hasn’t made Bard public yet, but it’s using up-to-date information from around the web and has reportedly been able to answer questions about 12,000 layoffs announced by Google’s parent company Alphabet recently.

Bard could answer a question about explaining new discoveries from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to a nine-year-old. It can also inform users about the best forwards in football “currently” and provide training drills to emulate top players. Screenshots provided by Google showed a more polished user interface than ChatGPT’s, but it’s still not publicly available, making direct comparisons with the competing OpenAI service difficult. Google says its search engine will use its latest AI technologies such as LaMDA, PaLM, image generator Imagen and music creator MusicLM.

Microsoft’s ChatGPT-powered revamp of Bing has also been kept under wraps, but several users said they caught a glimpse of it last week. The unconfirmed screenshots showed the “new Bing” answering questions in a conversational style and citing sources for the answers, possibly reflecting concerns from some ChatGPT users about the accuracy of some answers. It also reportedly uses up-to-date information from around the web and is based on a faster version of ChatGPT.

ChatGPT , the wildly popular AI, has offered up a potential new model for online search. The chatbot responds to questions about topics such as political science and computer programming with detailed explanations, and its question-and-answer format means users can drill down until they fully understand. Users doing similar research on Google must typically scan search results and peruse various websites until they arrive at their own conclusions. ChatGPT, by contrast, delivers a decisive answer in seconds.

A shift is under way from the prevailing model of keyword search, in which search engines comb the web for specific terms, to searches powered by large language models, which analyse enormous text databases to develop the ability to understand user questions and produce direct answers. This is the technology that ChatGPT uses to compose its rapid-fire responses. AI may offer another model of search. AI introduced a site with a diverse cast of chatbot characters that users can converse with in real time, all powered by large language models. One should never underestimate Google but there is a definite challenge!