This week Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, announced that his company's internet search engine — the way the vast majority of humans interact with a near-total corpus of human knowledge — is about to change.
Photo Insert: The collateral damage in this war of machines could be nothing less than the obliteration of useful online information forever.
Enter a query, and you'll get more than pages and pages of links, along with a few suggested answers. Now you'll get an assist from artificial intelligence, Business Insider reported recently.
"Soon," a Google blog post under Pichai's byline declared, "you'll see AI-powered features in Search that distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats, so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more from the web."
A chatbot named Bard will deliver search results in complete sentences, as a human might. Yet, Bard flunked the test as it dished out false information.
A day later, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, announced that his company's competing search engine, Bing, will do the same, using the tech behind the popular AI chatbot ChatGPT. No search engine has ever really challenged Google's hold on the world's questions; Microsoft sees AI as its chance to come at the king.
These new chatbots aren't actually intelligent. The tech behind the scenes is called a large language model, a hunk of software that can extract words related to each other from a huge database and produce sophisticated writing and visual art based on minimal prompting.
But when it comes to the acquisition, classification, and retrieval of knowledge, this approach is the subject of an old fight. It's been brewing since at least the early 2000s — and maybe since the 0s, at the Library of Alexandria. Fundamentally, it's a debate about the best way to know stuff.
Do we engage with the complexity of competing information? Or do we let an authority reduce everything to a simple answer?
Bard has a simple answer for that age-old question. From now on, instead of showing you a dozen webpages with instructions for opening a can of beans, machine-learning droids will just tell you how to open one.
And if you believe that effective search is what made the internet the most important technology of the 20th and 21st centuries, then that seemingly simple change should give you the shakes. The collateral damage in this war of machines could be nothing less than the obliteration of useful online information forever.