The most popular search engine on the internet may be headed for some rough sailing in the next one or two years, according to the creator of Gmail.
During that time frame, artificial intelligence will eliminate the need for search engine result pages, which is where Google makes most of its money, and even if the search giant deploys AI to catch up, it can’t do it without destroying the most valuable part of its business, predicted Paul Buchheit in a thread on Twitter.
Google may be only a year or two away from total disruption. AI will eliminate the Search Engine Result Page, which is where they make most of their money.
Even if they catch up on AI, they can’t fully deploy it without destroying the most valuable part of their business! https://t.co/jtq25LXdkj
— Paul Buchheit (@paultoo) December 1, 2022
“One thing that few people remember is the pre-Internet business that Google killed: The Yellow Pages!,” he wrote. “The Yellow Pages used to be a great business, but then Google got so good that everyone stopped using the yellow pages.”
“AI will do the same thing to web search,” he added.
As Buchheit sees it, a browser’s URL/Search bar will be replaced with an AI that autocompletes a thought or question as it’s typed while also providing the best answer, which may be a link to a website or product.
The AI will use the old search engine backend to gather relevant information and links, which will then be summarized for the user, he continued.
“It’s like asking a professional human researcher to do the work, except the AI will instantly do what would take many minutes for a human,” he wrote.
Time for a Change
Ben Kobren, head of communications and public policy at Neeva, an AI-based search engine based in Washington, D.C., maintained that online search is long overdue for an overhaul.
“If you look at search over the last 20 years, with some exceptions, it has remained relatively stagnant,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“We’ve become accustomed to the world of 10 blue links,” he explained. “You put in a query, and on a good day, you receive 10 or so relatively useful links to websites that you need to further search to find an answer to your search or query. On a bad day, you receive two pages of advertisements that are trying to get you to click and buy something and not answer your question until you scroll through the ads.”
“In either case,” he continued, “you’re not getting fluid answers that are simple, efficient, and what you’re looking for in one stop. The power of large language models and AI is to make a transformative jump in how we interact with search engines and how we expect information to be returned to us.”
“We haven’t seen that kind of change in search in two decades,” he added.
How Much Disruption?
Artificial intelligence disrupts current search models by providing consumers an easy way to find what they’re looking for, explained Noam Dorros, a director analyst at Gartner, a research and advisory company based in Stamford, Conn.
“Instead of putting in time reviewing different search results for a single answer on search engine results pages, AI gathers relevant information for the consumer, summarizing it in a detailed but succinct manner,” Dorros told TechNewsWorld.
“Consumers’ attention spans continue to dwindle given the endless amount of information that is now accessible through various platforms, so any advancement in technology to satiate that thirst for knowledge in a concise manner can clearly be a game changer,” he added.
Rowan Curran, an analyst with Forrester Research, a national market research company, pointed out some challenges to AI-guided search.
“Large language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT are not a brand-new introduction to the online search market,” Curran told TechNewsWorld. “While LLMs are fantastic for certain tasks in search, there are many circumstances where getting a single answer is not the goal of an online search. For example, when looking for local restaurants, you may want to see a list with ratings rather than simply getting a direct answer for where to eat.”
“Due to the cost of retraining, keeping an LLM up to date on all data scraped from the internet would be prohibitively expensive,” he added. “With further research and work on distilling of models, this cost will likely come down, but whether it is enough to support live online search is an open question.”
Advantages of Market Dominance
While AI will certainly change search, just how disruptive it will be remains to be seen, asserted Greg Sterling, co-founder of Near Media, a news, commentary, and analysis website.
“AI responses are already being integrated into Neeva,” he told TechNewsWorld. “There’s also Perplexity.ai and others promoting AI as a search alternative. Bing will be launching AI-generated content. But if everyone does it, including Google, it may not be that disruptive. Right now, AI results live at the top of results as a kind of big snippet.”
“Google is potentially vulnerable, but it would be unwise to bet against them,” Sterling added. “They have massive AI assets; they’re just slow to roll them out. AI content could impact ad clicks and Google revenue. That’s the real concern for the company.”
Neeva AI search | Image courtesy of Neeva
Google has a leg up on competitors on a number of levels, added Ross Rubin, the principal analyst with Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City.
Where search happens gives Google an advantage over its rivals, he explained. It’s the default search app on market leaders Chrome, in the browser market, and Android, in the mobile phone market, and it has a deal with Apple as the default search engine on that platform.
“Even if AI search engines create a better approach to finding information or meeting consumer needs than Google, Google would still have a dominant presence by which it could keep its leadership,” Rubin told TechNewsWorld.
Kobren acknowledged that it would be an enormous challenge to disrupt a tremendously successful business like Google in two years.
“What is clear is that this is a platform-shifting moment,” he said. “For the first time, you’re going to see a real shift in users adopting alternatives to Google. You’re going to see real competition in the space for the first time. There’s going to be some sort of movement. How big is that going to be in two years? We can’t predict that.”
Liz Miller, vice president and a principal analyst at Constellation Research, a technology research and advisory firm in Cupertino, Calif., added that it would be difficult to find an industry, segment, or company that isn’t going to be disrupted by AI in the next two to five years.
“The reality here is that AI is seeing an accelerated path out of the experimentation lab and into really meaningful automation and intelligence applications that are delivering business and personal value,” Miller told TechNewsWorld.
“I hope that AI makes search about relevance and real-time user context again instead a three-horse race between user needs, publisher inventory, and Google’s business model,” she said. “It has that potential.”