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The way we search for information online is about to change

CNN Business

A whole generation of Internet users has approached search engines in the same way for decades: type a few words into a search field and wait for a page of relevant results to emerge. But that could soon change.

This week, the companies behind America’s two largest search engines announced sweeping changes to how their services work, powered by new artificial intelligence technology that enables more conversational and complex answers. In the process, however, companies can test both the accuracy of these tools and the willingness of everyday users to adopt and find utility in a very different search experience.

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced a revamped Bing search engine using the capabilities of ChatGPT, the viral AI tool created by OpenAI, a company in which Microsoft recently invested billions of dollars. Bing will not only provide a list of search results, but will also answer questions, chat with users, and generate content in response to user queries.

The next day, Google, the dominant market player, hosted an event to detail how it plans to use similar AI technology to enable its search engine to offer more complex and conversational answers to queries, including by providing bullet points indicating the best times. of year to see different constellations and also offering advantages and disadvantages for the purchase of an electric vehicle. (the Chinese technology giant Baidu too said this week that it would launch its own ChatGPT-style service, although it did not provide details on when it would appear as a feature in its search engine.)

Updates come as OpenAI success ChatGPT, which can generate incredibly compelling tries and responses to user prompts, has sparked a wave of interest in AI chatbot tools. Several tech giants are now rushing to roll out similar tools that could transform the way we compose emails, write essays, and handle other tasks. But the most immediate impact may be on a fundamental element of our Internet experience: search.

“Although we are 25 years in search, I dare say that our story has only just begun,” said Prabhakar Raghavan, senior vice president of Google, at the event on Wednesday to tease the new features of the AI. “We have even more exciting, AI-powered innovations that will change the way people search, work and play. We’re reinventing what it means to search and the best is yet to come.

For those unsure of what to do with the new tools, the companies offered a few examples, from writing a rhyming poem to helping plan an itinerary for a trip.

Lian Jye Su, director of research at tech intelligence firm ABI Research, believes consumers and businesses would be happy to embrace a new way of searching as long as it “is intuitive, removes more friction, and offers the way of least resistance – similar to the success of smart home voice assistants, like Alexa and Google Assistant.”

But there is at least one wildcard: how much users will be able to trust the AI-powered results.

According to Google, Bard can be used to plan a friend’s baby shower, compare two Oscar-nominated movies, or come up with meal ideas based on what’s in your fridge. But the tool, which has not yet been made public, has already been challenged for a factual error it made during a Google demo: it incorrectly stated that the James Webb telescope took the first images of a planet outside our solar system. . A Google spokesperson said the error “underscores the importance of a rigorous testing process.”

Bard and ChatGPT, which were made public in late November OpenAI, are built on large language models. These models are trained on vast online treasures data to generate compelling responses to user prompts. Experts warn that these tools may be unreliable – spreading false information, inventing answers and giving different answers to the same questions, or presenting gender and racist biases.

There is obviously a strong interest in this type of AI. The public version of ChatGPT attracted one million users in its first five days last fall and is estimated to have reached 100 million users since then.. But the trust factor can decide whether that interest will stick, according to Jason Wong, an analyst at market research firm Gartner.

“Consumers, and even business users, can have fun exploring the new Bing and Bard interfaces for a while, but as the novelty wears off and similar tools appear, it really comes down to ease of use. access, accuracy and confidence in the answers who will win,” he said.

Generative AI systems, which are algorithms capable of creating new content, are notoriously unreliable. Laura Edelson, a computer scientist and disinformation researcher at New York University, said, “There’s a big difference between authoritative AI and actually producing accurate results.”

While general search maximizes relevance, according to Edelson, large language models try to achieve a particular style in their response without regard to factual accuracy. “One of those styles is, ‘I’m a trustworthy, authoritative source,'” she said.

At a very basic level, she said, AI systems analyze words that are next to each other, determine how they are associated, and identify patterns that cause them to appear together. But it’s largely up to the user to verify answers, a process that could prove just as time-consuming for users as the current model of scrolling through links on a page, if not longer.

Microsoft and Google executives have acknowledged some of the potential problems with new AI tools.

“We know we won’t be able to answer every question every time,” said Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft vice president and chief consumer marketing officer. “We also know we’ll make our share of mistakes, so we’ve added a quick feedback button at the top of every search, so you can give us feedback and we can learn.”

Raghavan, at Google, also stressed the importance of feedback from internal and external testing to ensure the tool “hits the high bar, our high bar for quality, security and anchorage, before launching. wider”.

But even with the worries, companies are betting that these tools offer the answer to the future of search.

– CNN’s Clare Duffy, Catherine Thorbecke and Brian Fung contributed to this story.

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