The evolution of knowledge-seeking has progressed significantly over the years; the world’s questions once answered by scholars, philosophers, public libraries and encyclopedias are now, in the digital age, being answered by search engines.
Evolution can also be witnessed within the short history of search engines themselves, as Bing, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves are nowadays mostly regarded as nostalgic predecessors of the number one present-day concierge of the internet: Google.
For the past 20 years, Google has dominated the digital realm as the global gateway to the online world; with around four billion users and over eight billion searches per day, it is the most visited website on the planet.
Google’s rapid growth and adaptability have kept competition from other search engine species at bay for an impressively long stretch of time, preventing a newer, shinier, or faster model from usurping its spot at the top.
However, although Google’s reign over the internet may have been largely unchallenged until now, in today’s fast-paced digital world of millennial burnout and high expectations, people have increasingly little time to invest in recreational online research anymore.
We’ve all been there, three hours deep in googling “how to [insert important but ambiguous question here],” getting no closer to an answer, but much closer to throwing the laptop out of the window.
Therefore, it stands to reason that digital natural selection may begin to favour methods of obtaining larger volumes of multi-sourced information in simpler, more bite-sized amounts.
Enter ChatGPT – OpenAI’s latest conversational chatbot, learning tool and information oracle – a new speedy knowledge cruncher that can find answers faster and explain them simpler than you can, posing notable competition to Google and its equivalents.
Everyone is talking about – and to – ChatGPT for everything from homework help and day-to-day questions, to therapy sessions and medical, culinary and creative advice. After gaining over one million users in under a week after its launch in November, ChatGPT is the fastest-growing tech platform in existence, and many are now suggesting that it may one day reinvent – or possibly even replace – the traditional search engine.
“Google is just a victim of its own success,” says Sridhar Ramaswamy, a former Google employee who oversaw the company’s advertising, adding that “technological moments like this create an opportunity for more competition.”
As a result, Google is scrambling, and CEO Sundar Pichai has issued a “code red” to urgently refocus the company’s resources into expediting the rollout of its AI pipelines and prototypes. Many of Google’s teams have been directed to repurpose their efforts into AI portfolios that can address the threat Google now faces from OpenAI’s ChatGPT competition.
Ironically, the AI world Google has played a major part in creating, is rising up to meet them and threatening to reinvent the traditional search engine.
This is the craziest tweet on this site.
OpenAI engineer calculates the cost to build a Google killer and comes to $50m for the embedding.
$50m for a ChatGPT that knows everything that’s on the internet, almost instantly.
— Chris Frantz (@frantzfries) December 17, 2022
What’s that, hubris I hear you say?
Over the years, not only has Google squashed many other search engines, but the company has also been a major player in catalyzing holistic progress in the fields of computer science, connectivity, and artificial intelligence. Part of ChatGPT’s code was even written by Google alumni who now work at OpenAI, so it was only a matter of time before the products of their world-changing endeavours came back to bite them.
OpenAI is a non-profit AI research laboratory based out of Silicon Valley, founded by Elon Musk and Sam Altman. The lab aims to develop “friendly AI” and openly share it with the world to benefit humanity as a whole.
In addition to ChatGPT, the lab has developed several other publicly available machine learning algorithms such as “Whisper,” “Dactyl,” “Jukebox” and “DALL-E,” each of which can do anything from composing musical scores or translating spoken language, to solving a Rubik’s cube or creating images from text.
— OpenAI (@OpenAI) August 31, 2022
The aim of OpenAI’s algorithms is to create autonomous systems that are able to outperform humans at a range of tasks, and their latest release – the in silico scientist, advisor and wordsmith, ChatGPT – is a conversational AI model that’s able to crunch information from across the internet on any given scientific, philosophical or general topic, and then reassemble its research into a coherent, digestible and succinct answer in seconds.
ChatGPT can answer all search queries for you in no time at all, so why spend time googling when you could be with your family, working or working out?
This is exactly what Google is worried about.
aim higher and do it faster
— Sam Altman (@sama) December 18, 2022
Chatbots are a risk to Google’s revenue and reputation
Given the changing generational climates and growing thirst for knowledge, chatbots have a significant potential to gain popularity going forward. Therefore, you would have thought that given Google’s enormous capital, field-leading workforce, and market dominance, they would have beaten everyone else to the chatbot finish line by now.
Well, they do in fact have their own conversational technology called “LaMDA” (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) in development, but have stalled its release due to two main factors: chatbot infrastructure doesn’t really support the incorporation of ads (Google’s main source of revenue) and given that chatbots’ core functionality essentially distils the big bad internet into a few short paragraphs at a time, the uncensored content churned out also has a great capacity for harm, which if produced under Google’s name could tarnish its brand.
In fact, chatbots pose an enormous existential threat to Google’s main business model; believe it or not, Google is actually an advertising company which inherently relies on users’ questions being left partially unanswered, prompting them to click on the personalised lucrative ads presented in search results.
This business model is employed by many big tech companies and has come under harsh scrutiny recently for its growing carbon footprint, as personalised ads have been shown to have hefty data requirements and also promote unsustainable consumerism.
There is a spectrum of opinions about how great of a threat ChatGPT poses to Google’s ad business, with some voices like Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, Mandeep Singh, maintaining that “Google has a very strong moat, and it’s unlikely to be disrupted in search,” whereas others like Edwin Chen, founder of another AI company called AI Surge, expressing that competitors no longer need “hundreds of millions of dollars to beat Google.”
However, despite these differing opinions, the bottom line still remains; if more users are making the switch to ChatGPT for their search queries, then less traffic will reach Google’s money-making advert links.
Aside from maintaining its economic integrity, Google also remains cautious about preserving its ethical integrity as well, a value that is hard to uphold in chatbot development.
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The personal touch of ChatGPT is what makes it most appealing, but also most dangerous. When searching for information on the internet, sometimes it’s hard to know where to look, what to trust, and which iteration of the answer you’re looking for is the right one. That’s why comfort can be found in the confident, concise and seemingly correct answers ChatGPT is able to provide inquisitors with. But, as many experts have expressed, this comfort is naively misplaced because ChatGPT is not immune to misinformation, mistakes and bias.
ChatGPT has no way of validating the sources it uses, nor does it provide a reference list or paper trail to show where the information has come from. Reliance on the accuracy of ChatGPT’s answers is just another form of blind trust in the internet.
Like many chatbots before it – Microsoft and Meta have both launched and subsequently lynched their own versions – ChatGPT has been shown to have a significant capacity for harm by somewhat randomly producing uncensored racist, sexist, xenophobic and otherwise offensive prose.
It’s this inability to censor harmful or misleading narratives that make launching a chatbot as part of the Google portfolio a particularly risky move for the brand-focused giant.
This risk does still exist for smaller organizations such as OpenAI, but is outweighed by the benefits of releasing such software on the company’s growth and visibility.
However, given the myriad of concerns raised about ChatGPT’s reliability as an information source, whether the buzz generated by its initial release will level up into long-term success and even user preference over Google, will depend entirely on OpenAI’s ability to evolve their chatbot algorithm to do better.
The ChatGPT vs Google Search debate misses the nuance of query classes.
For factual, authoritative queries around sports, finance, people, computation, Google wins.
For creativity, long-tail, exploratory, high-spam queries like recipes, synonyms, essays, coding, ChatGPT wins.
— Deedy (@debarghya_das) December 5, 2022
Fear of being replaced
Experts from many spheres are concerned that the wake of artificial intelligence and the realization of its sophisticated abilities may provide a cheaper, more efficient asset that could replace the need for human employees entirely. Given ChatGPT’s jack-of-all-trades capabilities, it’s therefore not just Google who fears being replaced by a faster, more intelligent species, but also teachers, writers and coders too.
In Google’s case, although the long-term threat of replacement by chatbots is tangible, all the while ChatGPT’s user base is significantly eclipsed by that of Google’s, there’s no real cause for immediate concern.
In fact, OpenAI’s release of ChatGPT (as well as all their other AI models) may in fact be beneficial for Google and other big tech companies exploring machine learning, as thrusting AI further into the public spotlight could bring more interest followed by investment to the sector.
The most likely outcome of the dawn of ChatGPT will be Google putting the pedal to the metal on its own AI chatbot initiatives, bringing forward the rollout of LaMDA or another similar software that enables conversational searching in a similar way.
Up until now, Google has had the luxury of supreme rule over online searching to somewhat complacently hold off on pushing out their own AI chatbot. But, the unprecedented pressure they now face from OpenAI and their human-like information companion, could back Google into a corner and lead to a forced decision based on economic rather than ethical priorities.
Let’s hope that, whatever comes out of this omniscience popularity contest, the long-term benefit is bestowed on society, rather than further lining the pockets of big tech.
Experiment: Google vs. ChatGPT, who really knows best?
To see if ChatGPT can actually square-up to the internet surfing heavyweight that is Google’s search bar, we experimented a little by asking both oracles a set of questions and comparing their answers.
We’ll let you judge which answers seem most informative, helpful and/or trustworthy.
1. Which is a more reliable source of information, Google or ChatGPT?
ChatGPT offered a seemingly well-balanced and impartial answer based on the technical specifics of the two operating systems:
Google’s response on the other hand was to almost exclusively provide news articles around the subject of Google vs. ChatGPT, all of which may include biased or polarizing information.
2. What are the Covid-19 entry requirements for Japan at present?
ChatGPT was unable to provide any useful information on the present-day restrictions, due to its knowledge base cutoff after 2021.
Contrastingly, Google’s first two helpful results were that of national embassies, and Google also provided a short digestible summary of Japan’s key covid-19 entry requirement information, up to date as of five days ago:
“Is a negative COVID-19 test required for entry? Passengers who have been fully vaccinated and boosted with vaccines approved by the Japanese government and who are arriving in Japan after October 11, 2022, will not require a pre-travel COVID-19 test.”
3. Is climate change a conspiracy?
From ChatGPT’s answer, it is clear that its standpoint on climate change is absolute. ChatGPT’s response starts and ends with “No, climate change is not a conspiracy,” with a simple yet informative explanation of the contextual reasons why in between. 10 out of 10.
Again, however, Google’s answer to this question is more impartial and less impactful, providing the Wikipedia page on climate change conspiracy theory as the top result.
While the results provided by Google are dually mixed and do include news headlines that unpack the issues associated with the spread of conspiracy mindsets, the first page of links Google provides certainly does not emphasize clearly enough that climate change is in fact a real and urgent issue for the entirety of humanity.
Most concerningly, the top “Sponsored” Google ad on the first page is titled: “Why Is Climate Change A Hoax – Find Quick Answers”
4. Explain nuclear fusion to a five-year-old.
Both ChatGPT and Google provide useful resources for explaining this complicated scientific process to a child (or an adult, let’s be honest).
Google’s search results:
However, in this case, although ChatGPT does provide a helpful analogy to aid in understanding nuclear fusion, the access to multimedia content such as videos and images that Google provides possibly trumps OpenAI’s chatbot when explaining complex technical ideas simplistically.
5. What should I put on my weekly shopping list to eat healthily, sustainably and cheaply?
ChatGPT was able to answer this question by providing not only ingredient suggestions, but also some additional helpful tips on how to go about making your food shop healthier, cheaper and more sustainable.
Google was also able to provide a list of “10 cheap and healthy foods to stock up on when money is tight,” but the breadth of resources presented in this case would have taken a considerable amount of time to look through, especially given the links were predominantly to news and magazine articles which, along with the important information, also come with a bulk of text to sift through.
The bottom line
At present, there is no answer to the question of “who knows best, Google or ChatGPT?” as both systems have their flaws, and even ChatGPT seems conflicted as to which font of knowledge will reign supreme:
Perhaps the smartest approach at present would be to utilize both tools in parallel; making use of the efficiency of ChatGPT, whilst simultaneously maintaining one’s inquisitive integrity and critical thinking by doing the hard-graft research on Google ourselves.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Featured Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull/Flickr