Google, Microsoft are Launching AI-Powered Search Engines - What Does This Mean for the Future of Browsing?
Generative AI
November 13, 2023
5 min read

Using a search engine has become as much of a daily essential as brushing our teeth or showering every morning. Need to look for a quick breakfast recipe? You 'google' it. Can't remember how to check if an element is hidden in jQuery? You 'google' it. What was that thing in that Christopher Nolan movie that you didn't understand even the tiniest bit? You 'google' it.

The act of firing up a search engine and typing our most pressing questions in it has become so ingrained in our psyche that it almost feels like second nature. You click the icon, type whatever muddled-up question you have in your head, and you hit go. The search engine - which is Google in most cases - makes head and tail of your query and provides page after page of possible answers and explanations. All that information in the world is right there at your fingertips. Now imagine if this quick and straightforward access to data, knowledge, and counsel could become even more advanced.

Enter Search Engines Powered and Enriched by Artificial Intelligence

Riding on the popularity and craze around OpenAI's stellar conversational chatbot, ChatGPT, Microsoft and Google announced their own initiatives to launch AI-powered search engines in February 2023. Google's Bard and Microsoft's Bing are dialogue-styled AI search engines which users can use to ask questions, ask follow-up questions, have a conversation about why a certain answer could be wrong, challenge the chatbot's solutions, and more. It'll almost be like having the Avengers superhero, Vision, as your texting buddy!

In the Feb 6, 2023 company news update, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, wrote about how "Bard can be an outlet for creativity, and a launchpad for curiosity, helping you to explain new discoveries from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to a 9-year-old, or learn more about the best strikers in football right now, and then get drills to build your skills."

While these two big tech giants are battling it out between themselves, it's also refreshing to see other players making it big in this market. The most notable one out there is Neeva. Their USP? 100% ad-free, never sells or shares members' data with 3rd parties, and never shows 3rd-party affiliate links which bias your search and browsing experience. What a fantastic ethos for protecting online privacy and data ownership! Another surprising one comes from China, which recently banned deepfake tech and implemented stringent regulations on deep synthesis service providers. Baidu, known often as China's Google, announced the launch of 'Wenxin Yiyan' or Ernie Bot, and their share prices surged a whopping 13%.

So Are our Traditional Internet Browsing Ways Going to Change?

The methods of searching for and consuming information depend from person to person. Some like doing lengthy research - probably because they don't trust the top search results - while others need quick answers. Let's visualize this with an example.

We put 'best workout wear' as a query in Google, and this is what popped up.

Riddled with sponsored search results (marked as 'Ad(s)'), there's no credibility or authenticity to these search results. They are up here as ads and not genuine recommendations for good, high-quality, workout wear brands or products available. On the other hand, when we put the same query in Neeva, these are the results we got.

Neeva first provided us with a summary of what it thinks are the best places to check out for the best workout wear. Each section of this summary is linked to the sources from which this information has been pulled. When you hover over that particular section, it provides more details on the right-hand side. This way, instead of getting ad-powered biased answers to your search query, you are provided with solutions that would fit your needs better. What's more interesting is that you are still supplied with high-quality, ad-free results when you scroll down.

Clearly, AI-powered search engines are expected to improve the user experience by providing more accurate and personalized search results based on a user's search history, location, and other factors. This means that users will spend less time sifting through irrelevant content and more time accessing the necessary information. In addition, AI-powered search engines will likely change how we interact with the internet by providing more conversational and natural language search options.

However, Concerns about Bias, Privacy, and Data Protection are Still Prevalent

As AI algorithms become more sophisticated, they can gather and analyze more personal data about users without their consent, such as their voice, facial expressions, and biometric data. For example, Google recently introduced a feature called "Hum to Search," which allows users to hum a tune into their phone and receive search results for that song. While this feature may seem innocuous, it also means that Google is collecting and analyzing data about the user's voice and musical preferences.

During the recent product demos of Bard and Bing, as well as with more users testing out these AI-powered search engines, several eyebrow-raising concerns have already created a buzz.

During the demo of Bard, an AI-powered writing tool, the developers showcased its ability to generate text based on a given prompt. However, when asked to generate content on the topic of Black Lives Matter, Bard produced some offensive and insensitive remarks. This raised concerns about the potential for AI to reinforce biases and perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

Similarly, during the demo of Bing's image search feature, a user searched for "tank man," a reference to the iconic photo of a protester standing in front of tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. However, Bing's image search returned results of tanks and military vehicles, completely ignoring the historical context and the significance of the search term.

So Where Do We Go from Here?

These incidents highlight the need for developers to ensure that AI-powered tools are developed with ethics and inclusivity in mind. AI is only as unbiased as the data it is trained on, and if the training data is biased or limited, the AI is likely to produce biased results.

It's important to acknowledge that AI is still a relatively new technology, and developers are learning as they go. However, incidents like these underscore the need for more rigorous testing and evaluation of AI-powered tools before they are released to the public. It's also crucial that developers prioritize diversity and inclusivity when designing AI systems, and that they actively work to identify and address any potential biases.

The incidents with Bard and Bing remind us that AI is a powerful tool that can potentially shape our world in profound ways. As we continue to develop and refine these technologies, it's essential to do so ethically, inclusively, and responsibly. By working together, we can ensure that AI-powered tools are a force for good and serve all people's needs without discrimination or harm.

ChatGPT was used to clear creative blocks when writing this blog.

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