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Google vs ChatGPT: which is the better search tool?

Dr Harry Brown discusses the benefits and drawbacks of using ChatGPT as a search engine vs more traditional search methods like Google.

From about the turn of this current century onwards, Google has established itself as the predominant search engine, towering over its competitors. As well as providing a terrific search service plus spawning a whole plethora of other useful utilities, it has become a massive company, generating huge profits for its shareholders. It has established such a substantial economic moat over its competitors that until recently, nobody thought that any new search engine could give Google a run for its money.

However, a new competitor has arisen relatively recently. ChatGPT is a product of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution. It is a chatbot and virtual assistant developed by OpenAI which allows the user to have a human-like conversations to complete various tasks. It is therefore important to understand how to use this new tool, as well as understand its advantages and limitations.

Google vs ChatGPT

Google and ChatGPT are fundamentally different and I argue they can, in some ways, complement each other rather than compete.

Google: what are the benefits?

Google has an incredible market share of the current search market at over 90%, whilst the next biggest is Bing with 3.64%. The search engine relies on searching for key words or phrases and links to sites on the internet that contain these key terms. The links are ranked in a list from most relevant to least relevant, and it is up to the user check out the content of the links and assess the accuracy. There are many trusted resources out there and often it is relatively easy to get an acceptable answer to your specific question.

Often, the list of links produced by a Google search is returned within seconds. Their database is vast and the technology is not only very sophisticated but well proven. Google’s search algorithms and database are constantly updated to keep aligned with new material that appears online. In fact, as many of us know the word ‘Google’ has become intertwined and accepted into the English language.

What can ChatGPT be used for?

ChatGPT allows you to enter a natural language query, and within a relatively short time frame, customised text will be returned to you as a specific answer.

This can be written in text or spoken, although there have been problems with AI employed artificial voices. As well as providing information, its AI powered Chatbots can also be of personal assistance and can summarise articles, draft emails and even solve mathematical problems.

ChatGPT is not a search engine, but it has digested a lot of online databases which not only helps to provide realistic answers, but it does so in a chatty text or speech format. Whereas Google will serve up links for you to explore and evaluate.

ChatGPT can be more flexible and can generate a more customisable response. For example, although it may not be perfect, it can generate a letter or write a speech. It also has speech capabilities and can now engage in a conversation, acting like a high-powered smart speaker. It can only get better and more accurate and it will likely speed up over time.

The problem with ChatGPT

However, this unique level of response does come with a price. The answers it provides may not always be accurate and are often based on old information. These AI errors are sometimes called ‘hallucinations’.

Another issue with ChatGPT is that it requires a lot of processing power which in turn requires large amounts of electricity. This is a major issue, and tech companies are understandably keen on procuring clean energy to feed their data centres. However, this will require considerable investment and in turn will put a significant cost on AI.

Although there is a free version of ChatGPT, there is a subscription model which offers premium facilities and access. Google is free of charge to the end user as the cost of clicking a link is virtually negligible, but it can be highly profitable for Google as advertisers are paying for links on search results.

Furthermore, generative AI engines such as ChatGPT have to be trained on online databases and there are issues about copyright infringement and there is already some litigation underway.

Artificial intelligence: an improving technology

AI technologies can be more flexible than regular search engines and there is a plethora of roles AI can fulfill. For example, the popular music streaming service Spotify has also started to use AI to generate personalised playlists (although this is currently only available to premium subscribers). This is a clever use of AI technology which provides customised content with minimal user input.

AI translation is also improving, and one study showed that ChatGPT and other AI translation tools can easily convert colloquialisms, whereas more traditional platforms such as Google Translate tend to provide more literal translations that fell flat across cultures.

Which is better: ChatGPT or Google?

Both Google and ChatGPT have their advantages and disadvantages and a sensible user will combine the talents of both. Bing, for example, has already combined AI and search under the one service, and reports suggest that Google plans to do this too.

However, it is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of each of these services. While AI powered search engines offer unique benefits to the consumer, it is important to remember there is a cost to be met when using products such as ChatGPT, including the need for lots of electricity.

Google is a money-making machine and a mature and dependable technology. The company is therefore not going to give up their current position easily to the newer technologies. However, ChatGPT is evolving quickly, and there is already a new version out this month, less than two years after its initial launch in November 2022.

Even so, both Google and Chat GPT, as well as their competitors have a lot to offer. Currently, I believe there is room for both of these technologies, but it is important for you to keep up to date with these developments. Search is a fundamental use of the internet, and it is likely that these two giants will be around for some time.

Dr Harry Brown is a retired GP, Leeds


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