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Parmy Olson

Google Faces a Serious Threat From ChatGPT

Answers from the AI-powered chatbot are often more useful than those from the world’s biggest search engine. Alphabet should be worried.

There once was this thing called Google...

There once was this thing called Google...

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Hulton Archive

A new chatbot from OpenAI took the internet by storm this week, dashing off poems, screenplays and essay answers that were plastered as screenshots all over Twitter by the breathless technoratti. Though the underlying technology has been around for a few years, this was the first time OpenAI has brought its powerful language-generating system known as GPT3 to the masses, prompting a race by humans to give it the most inventive commands. (My favorite is, “Write a Biblical verse explaining how to remove a peanut butter sandwich from a VCR.”) Beyond the gimmicky demos, some people are already finding practical uses for ChatGPT, including programmers who are using it to draft code or spot errors. But the system’s biggest utility could be a financial disaster for Google by supplying superior answers to the queries we currently put to the world’s most powerful search engine.  

Google works by crawling billions of web pages, indexing that content and then ranking it in order of the most relevant answers. It then spits out a list of links to click through. ChatGPT offers something more tantalizing for harried internet users: a single answer based on its own search and synthesis of that information. ChatGPT has been trained on millions of websites to glean not only the skill of holding a humanlike conversation, but information itself, so long as it was published on the internet before late 2021.