Google's search dominance won't be toppled easily. But new AI features in search engines like Microsoft's Bing and startup competitor You.com rapidly reshape consumer expectations. As users seek more efficient search options, the search landscape is poised for a significant shift.
According to AI ethicist and You.com CEO Richard Socher, the search landscape has been influenced by several waves of Google alternatives and "hacks." For example, millions of users add "site:reddit" to their search queries to find authentic opinions and experiences from Reddit rather than commercial content optimized for Google. And, the rise of TikTok as a search alternative among Gen Z users and the emergence of generative AI-like chatbots have also challenged traditional search methods by surfacing social video content that doesn't originate from Google-owned YouTube. As Socher explained, Bing, You, and other search startups incorporated these features, offering users a more personalized search experience.
Incorporating AI and chat in search is more than just a novelty, said Socher. It has the potential to transform search engines into "accomplishment engines," helping users complete tasks more efficiently and avoid being inundated with low-quality content or ads.
"SEO-driven low-quality content has diluted the value of search results," said Socher. "This has fed consumer demand for better search experiences."
But can generative AI and user control really challenge Google's hegemony in the search market? According to Socher, the key lies in innovation, user control, and strategic partnerships. He acknowledged that Google has built a significant moat around its business, from owning the operating system, Android and Chrome OS, and the browser, Chrome, to maintaining a $15 billion partnership with Apple to remain the default search engine on its devices. However, he also pointed out that entrenched habits can change, citing the shift from using "Skype" as a verb to newer communication platforms like Zoom.
Socher says Google needs help to adapt to new paradigms, such as generative AI, due to its existing business model and entrenched market dominance. Google's huge margins from its ad-driven search engine make it difficult for the company to embrace innovative technologies that might disrupt the delicate balance of its revenue streams. As a result, Google faces the classic innovator's dilemma, reluctant to fully commit to a new technology that could potentially cannibalize its core business. This hesitation creates an opening for competitors like You.com to leverage the latest AI advancements and offer users a more advanced and personalized search experience, thereby challenging Google's incumbency.
He envisions a future where AI will dramatically improve search engines by integrating search, chat, and generative AI. This approach could create a more interactive and helpful user experience, moving beyond search engines' traditional list of links. Socher believes that by harnessing generative AI, search engines can better understand users' intentions and queries, providing more relevant and actionable results. These features could help users to accomplish tasks more efficiently, such as generating images and essays or even completing HTML websites directly within the search results.
Socher also highlights the importance of AI in driving innovation within the search engine market. He notes that You.com is often the first to introduce novel AI capabilities, which other search engines later adopt. This continuous innovation cycle attracts users who want to be at the cutting edge of AI technology and drives interest in platforms like You.com. By leveraging AI to deliver a more personalized and interactive search experience, Socher believes that search engines can effectively challenge the dominance of established players like Google and offer users a superior alternative for finding and accessing information online.
The discussion of generative AI inevitably leads to questions about the potential development of AGI, or artificial general intelligence. This term often refers to a superintelligent AI that could surpass human intelligence and pose an existential threat to humanity.
However, Socher takes a more pragmatic view, suggesting that the fears surrounding AGI are often overhyped. He argues that large language models like generative AI would need to possess the desire or capability to take on a mind of their own. Comparing the steam engine and the internet, Richard contends that while these technologies have surpassed human capabilities in specific areas, they have not posed an existential threat to humanity. "Are [AGI fears] actually realistic? I really don't think so," said Socher. Watch the full interview to hear his full explanation why.