Crystal Cox/BI Photo
- AI-boosted search engines from Microsoft and Google are set to change the way we search the web.
- New versions of Google Search and Bing are meant to give conversational answers to complex queries.
- It’s “more like just asking a personal assistant to do something,” an AI expert told Insider.
When you search for something on the web today, you’ll likely be met with a long list of links. And despite a few tweaks — like Google’s “people also ask” box, which attempts to answer questions related to a search query — the user experience has been fundamentally the same for years.
New artificial intelligence developed by Microsoft and Google is about to fundamentally change how we go about looking for information on the web. Make no mistake: This is a big deal.
In a blog post Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai laid out his company’s plans to bring its new AI tech, such as its Language Model for Dialogue Applications, or LaMDA, to Google Search. On Tuesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella unveiled his company’s new AI-boosted version of its Bing search engine, powered by OpenAI’s AI chatbot ChatGPT and its GPT-3.5 technology.
New Bing and new Google offer conversational answers to complex questions. The lists of links will still be there, but they may soon be redundant. Google’s and Microsoft’s upgraded search engines aim to get to the crux of the information people really want when searching the web, allowing users to ask natural questions in their own words — rather than trying to guess which keyword combination might be most effective — and to receive answers in a more-digestible format.
Take the example Pichai used in his Monday blog post, where the search query was “Is piano or guitar easier to learn and how much practice does each need?”
AI features in search, Google
Courtesy of Google
That’s not the sort of question we’re used to asking a search engine, nor is the answer one we’re used to getting.
“It’s going to be much more like just asking a personal assistant to do something,” Michael Wooldridge, the director of foundation AI research at The Alan Turing Institute, told Insider. The new search engines “should understand the nuances of what you are asking and the kind of context in which you’re asking it,” he said.
Benedikt Schönhense, the head of data science at the consultancy Springbok AI, told Insider that search would most likely become far more intuitive, with an experience “much more akin to a natural conversation.”
Nadella said in media interviews Tuesday that the AI-powered overhaul of web search represented “a new paradigm” for the industry. “A new race is starting with a completely new platform technology,” he said. Indeed, since Microsoft-backed OpenAI launched its buzzy ChatGPT chatbot in November, Google has been keen to show it’s not falling behind.
But there are limitations to, and valid concerns about, this brave new world of conversational search. The new search AIs draw their answers from the web at large, and information on the web isn’t always accurate, to say the least. If a search AI confidently presents an ill-informed, inaccurate answer to a sensitive question — as ChatGPT has been shown to do — there’s a risk that search, the bedrock of human interaction with the web, brings AI-generated misinformation to the mainstream.
Abhishek Gupta, the founder and principal researcher at the Montreal AI Ethics Institute, told Insider the change in how we search the web could cause a “discontinuity in the search experience” for users who are used to browsing and making their own decisions. Instead, he said, people will be “told” what the “right” answer is, prompted by an expectation that the AI interface is “giving a well-thought-out, crafted answer” to their query.
“The issues of problematic information — misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation — will become more rampant,” Gupta said. “Users will need to become savvier on media and digital literacy to be able to combat this.”