Home / Opinion / Columns /  Will ChatGPT replace Google as our go-to web search platform?

By the time you read this column, you would have drowned in a sea of content around OpenAI’s stunning new product, ChatGPT. The ‘best chatbot ever made’ rocketed to a million users in the first week of its launch, and it seems each of these one million people wrote something or the other about it. Rather than add to the gushing praise, incredulous reactions and even doomsday scenarios, I will focus on one intriguing aspect of ChatGPT: Will it replace ‘search’ and dethrone Google? Many mesmerized users seem to believe so. @jdkelly proclaims that “Google is done" (bit.ly/3PtCj1t), @mertbio confidently pronounces that “OpenAI just killed Google" (bit.ly/3hueNF6). There are even reports that Google has declared a ‘Code Red’ over this. OpenAI, incidentally, counts Google-competitor Microsoft as a major investor, and runs on its Azure platform. Before we get into whether Sundar Pichai should be having sleepless nights over it, let us step back and see what ChatGPT really is.

The chatbot runs on OpenAI’s GPT3 large language model (LLM). It has been trained on a massive body of text with 175 billion neural network parameters (bit.ly/3RbHfbB); GPT4, expected anytime now, will have 100 trillion plus! A language model uses machine learning to predict what the next word in a sentence should be, based on the previous entry or prompt. LLMs have been called “the world’s most powerful autocomplete technologies." They feed voraciously on sentences, facts and dialogue samples and learn statistical patterns to assemble them in a coherent order. That is how they carry on conversations. Most of them, however, are not optimized for ‘truth’; they do not understand what they are saying, nor whether it is correct. As an expert put it, “The model strategizes to be plausible instead of truthful."

Search engines also do not understand what they serve up, nor do they pretend to. Their job is to crawl the web and algorithmically pick the presumably most-relevant search links for you. ‘Presumably’ because that is what a pure search engine would do. The business models driving search, however, mix it with paid links, sponsored links and links that have been manipulated to appear upfront—what we prosaically know as search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO). In theory, ChatGPT can be used for search, but this version certainly has not been designed for that. For one, it does not crawl the web and so cannot go out there and find the information you need and tell you from where it is sourced. Secondly, its knowledge base, or the text it was trained on, ends in 2021. So, it might still think that Queen Elizabeth reigns over England, or that we’re still under the impression that Russia would never invade another country. Gary Marcus recently joked about this in a tweet (bit.ly/3PA3Z4L) saying: “All you have to do (to make ChatGPT work) is… hook it up to… a …search engine!" However, that does not mean that ChatGPT could never do so. OpenAI’s co-founder John Schulman is on record saying that an upgrade, tentatively called WebGPT, may be out in the next few months.

Now that could make Pichai and team sit up—a ChatGPT-like interface that runs on the mighty GPT4, powered by Microsoft’s cloud and perhaps integrated with its search engine Bing. This is not to say that Google is not working on a similar product; Google Brain is a world-leading AI team, and Google owns probably the best deep-learning engine available, DeepMind. Last year, Google released LaMDA which can pretty much do what ChatGPT does—chat with users on any subject under the sun. In fact, it was so life-like that a Google engineer, Blake Lemoine, claimed it was sentient, that it could feel or perceive things. Google has also announced that it will integrate LaMDA in its search, voice assistant, Gmail, Docs, and Drive. Its final objective, Pichai claims, is to “create a conversational interface that allows people to retrieve any kind of information—text, visual, audio—across all Google’s products just by asking it to."

A preview of what this would mean can be had in what some users are already doing with ChatGPT. @nishithshah claims he finally understood what football’s offside rule really is, something that would have taken him much longer with Google search (bit.ly/3Wgfi4f), and @tsrandall was so wowed by his experience that he likened it to the first time he used Google search (bit.ly/3FrdluV).

My take is that whether ChatGPT dethrones Google or not, it will do a few good things: it will better our search experience, give Google a competitor so that it starts innovating, and hopefully make the advertiser-driven user interface of Google user-driven instead.

Jaspreet Bindra is the founder of Tech Whisperer Ltd, a digital transformation and technology advisory practice

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less

Recommended For You

Trending Stocks

×
Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My ReadsWatchlistFeedbackRedeem a Gift CardLogout