For many years before the invention of the internet (which is, in itself, a fascinating subject), fiction imagined what it would be like to have a device in your hand that could supply the sum of all human knowledge on demand. It’s safe to say that search engines have essentially made that dream a reality; we can access pretty much anything we like whenever we want, and we can easily call up information on everything from global politics to personal financial tips and more.
Many analysts consider the next major leap forward in search technology to be the advent of AI. For these analysts – and for major companies like Microsoft and Google – AI represents a way that humans can augment their search experience online, and it’ll deliver faster, more accurate, and more personalised search results. Here are some of the ways that AI is revolutionising the world of search engines.
AI will make searches more personal
If you search for a term on Google or any other search engine right now, you’ll get websites and links related to that term, as well as images and other helpful results. However, it’s fair to say that the results you’ll get don’t always completely answer the question you’ve asked; they’re more piecemeal than holistic.
With the advent of AI in search engines, those days will be gone, and the question you ask will probably be completely answered by an AI search assistant. For instance, if you ask “how to make vegan chocolate ice cream that’s suitable for kids and diabetic people”, then you’ll get an answer that will help you with that specific query, rather than just vegan chocolate ice cream recipes.
It’s easy to see how this could potentially enhance the online search experience. After all, what is search for if not to help you with queries that aren’t easily answerable by those around you? Google, Bing, and any other search engine that incorporates AI will soon be able to give you exactly the answer you want without any work required on your part.
Chatbots will make search more of a conversation
Chatbots aren’t a new invention; they’ve been around for many years in one form or another. However, early chatbots are pretty unintelligent, capable only of replying to your questions or prompts with a series of pre-baked answers. We’re already seeing some of the ways in which AI will change this.
ChatGPT, one of the most popular AI chat modules out there, has now been implemented into Bing Search, and it’s now possible to essentially have an extensive conversation with a chatbot to determine what you want to find within a search engine and find it with pinpoint accuracy. Google’s Bard will serve a similar purpose, and there are other chatbot modules in development around the world intended to make searches both more conversational and more useful.
The potential benefits here are huge, although there are, of course, also potential pitfalls (which we’ll get into in a moment). If, for instance, you want to follow up on a search query with an additional question as you would with a conversation partner, chatbots will be able to assist you with that. Similarly, if there’s something you’ve forgotten from your initial search, you can simply double back within the conversation and ask your chatbot to help you augment your original query.
AI makes searching more tricky, too
Despite the potential benefits that AI brings to search engines, there are also ways in which AI implementation can make searching more tricky. There’s a term called “hallucination” that’s used within AI circles, and it essentially refers to times when AI makes up an answer on the spot based on faulty logic rather than returning a factually correct response to a query.
Naturally, humans will need to be on the lookout for any moments when AI “hallucinates”, but if we come to depend on AI-powered search and fundamentally replace traditional search engines with AI-powered alternatives, then we’re going to need to be very vigilant indeed for hallucinatory responses and deal with them where appropriate.
One way that we can ensure this happens is to provide clear guidance when a search result has been returned by an AI, as well as an obvious and easy way to follow up on information and independently fact-check it for ourselves. However, the widespread proliferation of AI that now feels almost inevitable could make this process difficult.
If AI is everywhere, there inevitably follows a profit motive to keep you using it, and so companies could want to divert your attention from the potential pitfalls of their technology. This is speculation, though, and we’ll have to see if corporations take up the responsibility needed to ensure their AI tech is reliable.
Eventually, all search engines will need AI
Right now, the search landscape is absolutely dominated by one force: Google. The market share Google has compared to its competitors is frankly astonishing; the next most popular search engine after Google is Microsoft’s Bing, but according to StatCounter, Google enjoys a 93.12% market share around the world, with Bing bringing up second place at 2.77%.
This could change as Bing’s ChatGPT implementation gets smarter and more efficient, but one thing is definitely for certain: the race between search engines will be won by cleverer and more powerful AI generative experiences going forward, so search companies will need to step up their game if they want to compete.