Bill Gates recently predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) would replace search engines and online shopping as we know it. Rather than manually going to websites, he believes that these tasks will soon be replaced by an AI virtual assistant. This statement comes during a recent boom in AI products and a Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit against Google accusing it of monopolizing the search engine industry. While it is still too early to gauge properly, initial indicators show that new technology may be able to challenge Google’s dominance better than state agencies.
Curiosity about AI and the ability to search the web using natural language caused a spike in Bing usership, while the dominant player in the search engine market, Google, had a difficult start to its own AI-assisted search program. Bing incorporated AI into its search engine by giving users the option to chat with a bot and ask it questions in natural language, to which the bot would reply with answers gathered from the web. While still very new, AI could prove transformative to search engines similar to how Google’s approach overtook Yahoo.com.
Before Google was the dominant search engine, Yahoo was the premier search engine. Its approach followed the same framework for how information had been organized in other spaces such as libraries, with the search engine effectively acting as a “card catalog of the web.” What made Google stand out was that it organized information differently and more effectively. Rather than searching based on title, Google engineered searches to be based on cross-references across web pages and determined relevance based on the number of cross-references found. By taking this new approach Google was able to present users with more relevant results compared to Yahoo.
Fast-forward to 2023, Google has long been the dominant search engine, as shown by the company name becoming a synonym used to describe any online search. This has drawn the attention of the DOJ which has filed a lawsuit against Google for allegedly taking measures to discourage competition. At the same time, AI has made large strides in development and has begun to be used for all manner of tasks.
In February 2023, Microsoft Bing launched its AI-assisted search program. Bing spiked after this development, reaching over one hundred million daily users. This is still small compared to Google’s daily users, but it was significant in showing interest in how the new wave of AI technology will impact search engines.
Google has debuted its own AI search engine program, Bard. However, it did not get off to as smooth a start as Bing. Bard included a factual error as part of its presentation. In its first demo, Bard was asked “What new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope can I tell my 9-year-old about?” and it said it took the first photo of an exoplanet, which was actually done in 2004. As this was the first public demo of Bard, this undermined confidence in Bard’s ability to accurately search the web in a way that could effectively replace a traditional search engine. While it is still a new and rapidly evolving market, Bing has developed an early lead compared to Google. Ironically, they have accomplished this by doing what Google did to overtake Yahoo, allowing people to search the web more naturally and intuitively using emerging technologies in ways that had not been considered before.
With the recent interest among regulators in going after big tech companies, it is important to understand that as technology advances new players will emerge and challenge companies that are now considered untouchable. While Bing becoming dominant in AI-driven search to the point where they can meaningfully challenge Google is not guaranteed, it wouldn’t be the first time that new technologies disrupted entrenched tech giants.
Trey Price is a technology policy analyst for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information, visit https://www.theamericanconsumer.org/ or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.