Is AI changing the way we search?

Is AI changing the way we search?

Megan Dennison

Megan Dennison

We are currently witnessing the dawn of large language models (LLMs), such as ChatGPT. These are changing the way we work and the way we learn - particularly the way we search for information. There has been a huge reaction from education leaders, worrying about such tools being used to help students cheat their way through their studies, or fearing that they will be fed incorrect information. 

On the other hand, in the workplace, GenZ employees have bought into the AI hype. They are using the technology to help them with various work tasks, but have a huge fear of managers finding out. This is due to lack of company regulation around whether they should or shouldn’t be using these tools to support their work. 

The real conversation here though is, how useful is ChatGPT and other similar tools when it comes to research? With over 80% of the search market share, Google is the household favourite, but even Google has its limitations. Google is set up to search by keywords, but not to dive into granular and complex questions. For example, if I use Google and search ‘AI’, the results come back with a multitude of news items, various descriptions of AI and a range of company articles using the term ‘AI’. 

This is where tools like Chat GPT come in. Using an LLM, I have the ability to ask a question such as ‘Can you describe what AI is’, and it comes back with a detailed description of AI and its use cases. This is information that can be pulled into any written work without having to use a single brain cell. This type of language model has the ability to understand and respond to natural language and provide answers that are both informative and entertaining, generating a variety of responses to each user’s questions.  

However, the major limitation of ChatGPT is that the data only runs up to 2021, so for many trying to use this tool, the information will be far too out of date to create current and reliable content. This is a major point for those working in tech comms, as the speed of innovation is so fast that information quickly becomes outdated. 

Aside from this limitation, there have also been concerns around the ethical implications, including privacy, bias in training data and lack of human interaction. More commonly used search engines don’t have these same problems, and therefore are more reliable to use for research. Using a manual search engine relies on people to manually gather and organise their own data and information, based on the latest information available. On the other hand, an AI search engine relies on computers and algorithms and their pre-trained and installed data to produce results. This is one of the key differences when using either for searching. 

However, a search tool is only as good as the data it provides. Google provides results to our keyword searches based on the algorithm it uses to deem information credible. ChatGPT hasn’t yet been transparent about its sources, which again makes using it for research difficult. 

Looking at this from a comms perspective (as we’re comms people after all) these changes will be significant to our output. Firstly, we're constantly researching to ensure we are knowledgeable for our clients. But secondly, and importantly, a lot of what we do influences Google results. An amazing article about our client in a national newspaper like the Financial Times, will feature at the top of search results and will have an impact on that company's reputation. In B2B, the sales process often starts with Google! But as LLMs continue to develop, what will it mean for a company's reputation and how they feature in LLM results?

There is no doubt that LLMs will continue to have a huge impact on the way we search, work, and learn. We’re at an important juncture, where not only the likes of Google will look to make significant changes to its platform, but we’ll also see a huge range of new players enter and compete in the ‘AI race’. It’s not too dissimilar to when we witnessed the disappearance of Nokia, Motorola and Blackberry as Apple and Microsoft became the dominant players in the mobile phone evolution. I think we’ll see something very similar happen here!

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