In our discussions about how AI-powered ‘chatbot’ technology might represent a threat to search engines, we haven’t really looked at how it might do this. Perhaps things are best explained with an example.
We all know that as an index to words and phrases on the web, a search engine is a precision tool for the job. But we also know that increasingly, people don’t want to look up words and phrases, they want to find out something, especially how to do something.
That’s where ChatGPT can already provide better answers than a search engine. Let’s say we’re using Excel and we want to use it to discover what day of the week it’ll be in a certain number of days’ time. We can, of course, just throw our query into Google. However, if you try the Google search yourself, you’ll see the results are a bit of a mess. Maybe the answer is in there somewhere, but the experience of finding out is not going to be one we’ll immediately warm to, when it comes to similar questions in the future.
Now compare it to ChatGPT. Enter the same query there (i.e. ‘excel query for finding the day of the week in n days time’) and here’s the result that comes back:
In Excel, you can use the
=TEXT(A1+N,"ddd") function to find the day of the week in N days time.
Where A1 is the cell that contains the current date and N is the number of days in the future you want to find the day of the week for. The “ddd” part of the function formats the output to display the day of the week as an abbreviation (e.g. “Mon” for Monday).
You can also use
=TEXT(A1+N,"dddd") to display the full name of the day of the week.
A more engineering-based query
Let’s try it with a more engineering-based query about how to calibrate something. Compare these answers…
Which do you find more immediately helpful?
Will this lead to a large-scale exodus of users to new services when the query is likely to get better results than a search engine? Well, it might, but I think it’s more likely that the existing search engines quickly manage to integrate the alternative approaches into their results.
Don’t forget that Microsoft is the major investor in OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, so it’s almost certain that some sort of integration with the Bing search engine will be on the cards, perhaps quite soon. And we know that Google is sitting on more relevant AI expertise than anyone else, it’s just a question of how and when it becomes commercially sensible to enhance search with it. According to reports, Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have returned to the company to become involved in the latest developments.