How the implementation of ChatGPT might change search forever

In February 2023, Microsoft announced that its Bing search engine would implement ChatGPT. The announcement caused quite a stir and forced the technology community to rethink how chatbot-powered search would change our relationships and reliance on computers.

Many news articles about ChatGPT have focused on the fact that it can pass exams or produce college papers. Fewer have highlighted the way that it could change search engines. However, a conversational chatbot that can respond to questions in a natural, humanlike way could alter how we think about searching for information forever.

Search engines have slotted into our lives seamlessly over the last 30 years. The word “Google” has become a verb, which tells us just as much about how we’ve come to depend on internet search engines as it does about Google’s dominance in the market.

Progress in the search engine space has ticked along over the years. Search results became more accurate, SEO got more challenging to game, and features like voice search made things easier and more accessible. All of these gains improved the user experience incrementally. But nothing as innovative as ChatGPT or similar LLMs has come along and promised to transform the game until now.

When Microsoft announced that Bing would come with built-in ChatGPT, it caused a seismic shift in the search engine world and digital marketing. Google rushed out its own AI assistant, called Bard, and the Chinese search engine giantBaidu has announced the release of its own ChatGPT-style bot, Ernie-Bot.

So, what does this all mean for search engines?

ChatGPT & Bing

Bing has always been a helpful search engine. However, it existed in Google’s shadow. Typically, Bing has about 9% of the global market share, compared to Google’s roughly 85%.

However, integration with OpenAI’s GPT-4 could change what it means to “Google” something.

We’ve all had search engines in our lives for long enough to know how to use them to find the information we need. However, it often feels like we are searching for information rather than genuinely asking questions.

Search engines excel at questions like “How tall is the Eiffel Tower?” or “What is the capital of Germany?”. In other words, it’s excellent for objective information.

However, it’s less good at subjective information. It still works, but it relies upon directing us to data that’s only as good as its source. How could a search engine answer questions like “Who is the best artist of the 20th century?” or “What is the best pizza dough?”.

However, with a limited version of ChatGPT now available in the Bing browser, we can ask questions rather than search for information. It may seem like a subtle difference. However, in practice, it will feel a good bit different.

In the past, using search engines used to be more hit-and-miss. Some of us got used to narrowing down results by using brackets or minuses, but with ChatGPT enabled, we’ll be able to do far more.

For starters, machines built with natural language processing (NLP) will at least give the impression that they understand us. They can process more complex questions and return more detailed answers.

However, there are still some issues to iron out. Bing’s ChatGPT integration should solve some of these problems.

The other thing to remember is that Google has also said that Bard is not a search engine. They say that “Bard is a complement to search.” After Google’s premature release of Bard and its embarrassing and high-profile launch day mistake, this could represent a golden moment for Microsoft.

ChatGPT problems

Of course, while ChatGPT will enhance search, it has its limitations. Four significant issues with the software could slow its adoption.

#1. Cost

Right now, each search you do costs credits. It’s cloud-based, and as anyone who runs cloud software knows, that can be pretty resource-intensive. However, if it comes with Bing, that changes the game entirely and makes it affordable to more people.

Microsoft could offset the costs with ads, meaning plenty of digital marketing opportunities for brands working with Bing Ads.

Right now, if you want to use ChatGPT4, you need to pay. It’s a little less than €20 per month through ChatGPT Plus. However, even that price is a barrier to widespread adoption. Of course, ChatGPT3.5 is free to use, but it’s not as advanced as subsequent iterations.

ChatGPT is cloud-based, and as anyone who runs cloud software knows, that can be pretty resource-intensive. However, because Bing uses ChatGPT4, the game is changed entirely and made affordable to more people.

Microsoft could offset the costs with ads, meaning plenty of digital marketing opportunities for brands working with Bing Ads.

#2. Old training data

ChatGPT was trained on data from up to 2021. That means that the output it produces is limited to the not-too-distant past. However, an hour is a long time in the search engine world. Microsoft’s ChatGPT will solve this issue by using more current data by combining the search engine indexing with the existing chatbot data set.

Indeed, in recent months, OpenAI announced that ChatGPT4 would be able to access the internet via the Browse with Bing option. However, the response to the feature was, at best, mixed. Improvements to the process will be essential if ChatGPT is going to become the new search.

#3. Reliability

Much has been made of ChatGPT’s occasional errors regarding factual information. Part of the reason for this inconsistency is that it was trained on data from the internet. The web is full of facts and figures. It’s also stuffed with misinformation. So, it’s natural that some of that will seep through.

Some information is easy to verify. Other types of human knowledge, like morality or aesthetics, are a bit more complex. However, getting close enough will do. And, of course, no one should be consulting ChatGPT for medical advice, even if chatbots could fundamentally change healthcare if they become more reliable.

However, a 2022 study found that participants had a higher degree of trust in information when the interaction was more humanlike. Throw on top a lack of transparency about which sources are used to train a particular chatbot, and we might have an issue.

#4. Speed

ChatGPT was never what you might call sluggish. In fact, considering what it was doing on a computational level, it was quick. However, recent attempts to speed up the chatbot have resulted in complaints by users who state that the quality of output has dropped, with internal logic and even memory taking a hit. Indeed, a joint Stanford and Berkeley paper suggests outputs between GPT3.5 and GPT4 are noticeable.

Conclusion

There is an old joke that goes, “What is the most searched word on Bing?” The answer to that gag used to be “Google.” However, Microsoft might have the last laugh now that they’ve integrated ChatGPT into their search engine.

A free, conversational AI search engine with up-to-the-minute information could really chip away at Google’s dominance. Google is now on red alert, so we know they see Bing as a real and credible threat.

Of course, the real winner of this battle will be the consumer. Search can come on leaps and bounds and be able to handle more complicated queries at a far quicker rate.

Instead of a static relationship where a machine spits back answers, users can have a more conversational interaction that can be richer, more informative, and perhaps even profoundly personalized.

There is a world of difference between asking a chatbot to write a funny best man’s speech and:

a) being directed to a site with tips and guidance

b) getting a funny best man’s speech that’s ready to go

The potential is there. If chatbots iron out some of the issues we’ve outlined above — and they will eventually — AI assistants like ChatGPT will further integrate themselves into our lives and help us in many ways, which is pretty exciting.

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