I've been thinking about Large Language Models (LLMs) recently and how they highlight our resignation to the prevalence of advertising and marketing in everyday life. I’ve become acutely aware of how cluttered and messy the internet search experience has become, and my realization is primarily due to the emergence of ChatGPT.
Over these past few months, I’ve started going to ChatGPT for answers rather than to search engines. There are a handful of popular search engines, but we’ll focus on Google for this article. I’ll use ChatGPT over Google often, even though the info is only as relevant as 2021. I know many people who also do this, and I expect the trend to grow as ChatGPT begins to be up-to-now-relevant. The primary reason I do this is the same reason you skip/mute commercials: Google search results always contain annoying distractions from my goal.
In Google search results, you have relevant answers intentionally conflated with the financial interests of companies - via advertisers with sponsored positions on SEO-tailored websites that are popular but not more accurate.
The 'loudest,' best paying, best playing voice is what wins in Google search results. Even though some voices are loud, it doesn’t mean they are the most accurate. In an LLM, the algorithm does not factor into its result how much the content authors paid, and it doesn't factor in 'hits.'
Thankfully, it only works that way sometimes, and what you end up getting is a shortcut to more precise and relevant information without having to scroll/wade through the experiential artifacts of Google's business model to find them.
I don’t have to see ‘sponsored’ results. When interested in something local, I don’t have to see mega-corporation first-page results. I don’t have to see the content that is geared around a personal profile that Google has developed around my interests.
Of course, I can and do take privacy measures to keep my information and preferences out of Google’s algorithms, but this has become more difficult. For example, using a VPN will prompt Google to present you with captchas aggressively. Not logging into your Google account will prompt Google to pester you about logging in.
When ChatGPT came onto the scene, there was this familiar feeling, an exciting feeling that I couldn’t quite put a name to. I don’t mean with how cool/surprising/impressive the technology was. There was something else - an itch being scratched that felt freeing and speedy. Then it occurred to me what it was.
ChatGPT today -- in the time of Google Search -- reminds me of years ago, during the advent of Internet Search itself. When search showed up, life changed dramatically.
Instead of walking through buildings (libraries, etc) and physical books, making phone calls/interviews, conversing with authorities, and meeting with groups of domain experts to find the answers to big questions, you could instead use Google to search for it. This was what made internet search revolutionary. All of these previously normalized ‘obstacles’ to seeking information were suddenly removed.
It feels like a very similar situation to right now. I’m having to manipulate my browser (incognito search), use identity masking tools (VPN), and sometimes accept a broken website experience (not accepting cookies) just to be able to retain the ability to have access to the unbiased, most objectively accurate information.
I must visually and mentally dismiss the clutter on search results pages (sponsored ads). I have to skip past large chunks of content that Google has trained advertising and marketing to fill out with non-relevant information to maintain a search results position. This is a game of economy and commerce, usually for some company's benefit rather than individuals’ goals.
When using an LLM like ChatGPT, I can avoid wading through Google's distractions, business artifacts, and exploitation of user attention to get to the things I need. It is blessedly simple. Even if it is not right, I’d rather struggle with that than resort to being treated like a cog-in-the-machine of business and industry. Whenever I fall back to using Google again, I am reminded with distaste how much non-valuable stuff is in my way. The relevance and accuracy of generative models like GPT need to continue improving, but I'm already moving away from the traditional search engine experience more and more.
If I have any sense of the cultural zeitgeist, then this is only going to gain momentum with other people and younger generations. If OpenAI were to play its cards right, we could look at an evolution away from 'Internet Search' altogether. What I mean is that it will fully replace and sunset the Google search experience as we know it. If you had a choice between searching for information with distractions versus searching without distractions, which would you prefer?
Additionally, it makes logical sense to me that Google will need to play aggressive/hardball against companies like OpenAI to prevent their irrelevance (as far as Search goes, at least).
This is why Google is firing on all 4 cylinders to get their own version of an LLM-based search working. You’ve been seeing Generative AI appearing in the public Google search. I’m not surprised. And we should be somewhat concerned because what you’re looking at is a kind of battlefield over you as consumers playing out right in front of your eyes.
If Google cannot figure out how to insert their business model into the very nature of how generative AI works, then the trajectory of this technology will forever exclude them. It’s moving too fast for them to have time to figure out how to profit, and so this is why you are seeing ‘experimental features’ popping up on their flagship product, Google Search.
This is disappointing because I don't think anyone wants to see 'ads' or 'sponsored ads' cluttering up what services like ChatGPT respond with. I'm sure OpenAI knows this, and Google knows that OpenAI knows this. Google is either going to be looking to court OpenAI to 'partner' with them, or they will be looking to dominate them and supplant that experience altogether. For my and your sake, I hope that Google isn’t successful.
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