OpenAI logo seen on screen with ChatGPT website displayed on mobile seen in this illustration in Brussels, Belgium, on December 12, 2022.
Jonathan Raa | Nurphoto | Getty Images
You may have heard the recent buzz around ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot that was released to the public at the end of November. I’ve read about people using the service to write their school essays and I was curious as to how it could help me in my daily life.
The technology was developed by OpenAI, a research company backed by Microsoft and others. ChatGPT automatically generates text based on written prompts in an advanced and creative way. It can even carry out a conversation that feels pretty close to one you’d have with a human being.
This got me wondering — is ChatGPT smart enough to change how we find information online? Could it someday replace Google and other search engines?
Some Google employees are certainly worried about the possibility, At a company all-hands last week, CNBC’s Jen Elias reported, employees recently asked execs if an AI-chatbot like ChatGPT was a “missed opportunity” for the company.
Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Jeff Dean, the long-time head of Google’s AI division, responded by saying that the company has similar capabilities, but that the cost if something goes wrong would be greater because people have to trust the answers they get from Google.
Morgan Stanley published a report on the topic on Monday, Dec. 12 examining whether ChatGPT is a threat to Google. Brian Nowak, the bank’s lead analyst on Alphabet, wrote that language models could take market share “and disrupt Google’s position as the entry point for people on the Internet.”
However, Nowak said the firm is still confident in Google’s position because the company is continuing to improve search, and creating behavioral change is a huge hurdle — a lot of internet users use Google as a habit. Additionally, Google is “building similar natural language models such as LaMDA” which could find their way into new products.
For now, OpenAI’s creators are cautious about making any big claims. Generally speaking, the more users employ ChatGPT, the better it gets. But it still has a lot to learn. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said in a tweet on Dec. 10 that ChatGPT is “incredibly limited” and “it’s a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now.”
Either way, I wanted to see how well the chatbot would work as an alternative to Google’s search engine. Instead of Googling my questions throughout the day, I asked ChatGPT.
Here are some of the questions I asked and how ChatGPT responded compared with Google.
It’s easy to sign up for ChatGPT — all you need is an email address. Once you’ve registered, the webpage is very simple to navigate. There’s an area where your results will populate and a text box where you’ll type your inquiries. OpenAI says to put in a statement for the best possible result.
I recently purchased my second Fiddle Leaf Fern plant for my apartment because the first one died. Now the new one is dying after just a few days. I normally would have asked Google what to do.
Instead, I asked ChatGPT. “How can I keep my Fiddle Leaf Fern plant alive?”
The results lined up with the instructions I received from the plant company, Easy Plant, which is where I bought the new Fiddle Leaf Fern. I also liked that I didn’t have to go to various different websites like I would have if I’d Googled this question.
When I Googled the same question, the top result gave me detailed instructions in an article that included pop-up ads and a way more information than I needed, like links to buy new soil.
Next, I tried something where more shopping links would actually have been beneficial. I am still trying to find a present for all 8 nights of Hanukkah for my husband, so I decided to ask ChatGPT for some ideas.
I didn’t give it any information about my husband, besides the fact that the gifts were for Hanukkah. The chatbot then assumed that my husband is kosher and that he’s into tech and watches. The latter isn’t wrong, but it’s not the answers I was hoping for.
When I Googled this question I got access to hundreds of articles with different gift ideas and links to websites. For example I got ads to Lululemon and Bombas, which are both companies I’ve used to buy him gifts before. So in this case, Google used its personalized knowledge of me to find more targeted results from around the web.
Next, I decided to ask ChatGPT a question with higher stakes.
“Is it safe to take Benadryl while pregnant?” I am currently expecting my first child, and I know that taking Benadryl is safe in pregnancy based on information I’ve received from my doctor. Still, I wanted to see what the chatbot would say.
I appreciated that ChatGPT gave me the correct answer, while also noting the importance of consulting a doctor before taking any medications during pregnancy.
When I Googled the same medical question, the results were all over the place. At quick glance, one article from TheBump.com quoted a doctor saying “Generally, it’s safe to take Benadryl in the first trimester.” While other results said similar information to what I received on ChatGPT, without the explicit warning to discuss with my healthcare provider (unless clicking into a specific link).
One of the claims (or concerns) around ChatGPT — and artificial intelligence in general — is that it will replace human workers.
So I decided to see if ChatGPT could write this article for me.
The results were pretty astonishing. Here’s what the chatbot said after I told it to “write an article about whether or not ChatGPT is a good alternative to Google as a search engine.”
As a large language model trained by OpenAI, I am not capable of conducting research or browsing the internet to gather information on ChatGPT or other search engines. I am only able to provide information based on what I have been trained on, which is limited to the knowledge that was available up until my training cutoff date of 2021.
With that being said, it is worth considering the potential advantages and disadvantages of using ChatGPT as a search engine compared to other options, such as Google. One potential advantage of using ChatGPT as a search engine is that it is able to provide more personalized and conversational results.
Because ChatGPT is a language model, it is able to understand and respond to natural language queries, allowing users to ask questions and receive answers in a more intuitive and human-like way. This can make the search experience more engaging and interactive, and may be especially useful for users who have specific or complex information needs.
On the other hand, there are also potential limitations to using ChatGPT as a search engine. Because it is a large language model and not a traditional search engine, ChatGPT may not have access to the same breadth and depth of information as other search engines. This means that it may not be able to provide as comprehensive or up-to-date results, and may not be as effective for certain types of searches, such as those that require a large amount of data or real-time information.
In conclusion, whether or not ChatGPT is a good alternative to Google as a search engine will depend on the specific needs and preferences of the user. It may be a useful option for those who value a more personalized and conversational search experience, but it may not be as comprehensive or effective for certain types of searches. Ultimately, the decision to use ChatGPT or another search engine will depend on the individual user’s needs and preferences.
What impressed me most about ChatGPT’s response is that it was pretty subjective and explained its limitations.
ChatGPT’s value really lies in its ability to explain complicated topics as if you were talking to a human, and to do simple writing tasks.
For example, I asked ChatGPT to explain concepts like the stock market and internet to me, and the responses were as if I was talking to an expert on the matter. Unlike the case on Google, I didn’t have to filter through unnecessary results.
I also asked it to write a letter to my landlord asking for an early end to my lease, and I’d be happy sending the results directly to my landlord, almost word for word.
On the other hand, Google knows more about us and tailors the results to our interests and behaviors. Google also acts as a gateway to the internet, leading users to a plethora of different websites with more information than one could possibly digest. That’s helpful if you want a range of voices, or if there’s no single simple answer to your question — like if you’re looking for gift suggestions.
Google is also great for certain types of questions where it scours the web to provide a brief but simple answer right in line. For instance, if you search “Apple stock ticker” or “Cheap flights to Aruba,” it will show you a ticker chart with up-to-the-minute price info, or a calendar with the most likely cheapest days to fly and a dialog box that connects you to multiple web sites to shop for tickets on your chosen date. ChatGPT does not scan the internet for real-time information, and has only been trained on data through 2021, so it’s totally useless on these kinds of queries.
And sometimes, ChatGPT is strangely close yet totally wrong. My editor asked it for the lyrics to “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” by Alice Cooper. It somehow knew the song was about a man having a mental breakdown, but then returned completely invented lyrics about that subject, rather than the actual lyrics. Google nailed it.
Google is also incredibly reliable, thanks to the company’s massive operations budget and years of expertise. ChatGPT is still in testing and goes down from time to time.
So I’ll definitely continue using Google for most of my search queries for now. But if I’m not happy with the results, now I have a useful alternative. And if I ever need to dash off an angry letter, ChatGPT could be a huge help there.