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18 January, 2024

Can search-enabled AI spell the end for search engines?

Miki Chang, RFI Asia

We are always looking for information that can help us in our life, work, education, and entertainment. We have come a long way from using printed sources like books and magazines to online tools like search engines and AI assistants. These changes have affected how we access, interact with, and use information. Search-enabled AI, which has only become viable with the rise of generative AI, may mean we no longer have to scroll through a search engine generated list of web snippets, or even visit the websites where the information originates. 

Printed sources once gave us curated and reliable information, but they were limited in scope and availability. Search engines opened up a whole new world of information, but they also brought challenges like misinformation, bias, and manipulation. Entire cottage industries sprung up whose sole purpose was to game the search engines, called SEO. AI assistants, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, now offer a new solution that combines the reliability of curated sources and the diversity of the web, bypassing search engines altogether.

AI assistants can generate information based on our queries, using natural language and context. They can also verify and cross-reference information from multiple sources, ensuring accuracy and relevance. AI assistants can make information retrieval more efficient and effective, both for professional and personal purposes.

AI assistants can help us make better decisions, learn new things, and understand the world better. They can also cater to our individual needs and preferences, creating a personalized information experience. AI assistants can enhance our information literacy and curiosity, leading to more progress and innovation.

However, AI assistants also have some drawbacks. They can make us less engaged with the web, where we can roam and find different perspectives and opinions. They can also make us too dependent on their answers, without questioning or verifying them ourselves. The answer is to find a balance between using AI assistants and exploring the web, keeping our critical thinking and curiosity alive. 

Search-enabled AI assistants such as Bing are useful, but we need to make sure we prompt them correctly:

  • Be clear and specific: Tell the AI assistant exactly what you want to know, so it can give you the best results.
  • Provide context: Give the AI assistant some background information, so it can understand your query better. 
  • Verify and cross-reference: Check the information that the AI assistant gives you, using other sources and your own judgment.
  • Stay updated: Keep up with the latest developments in AI, and how they affect information retrieval.

The transition from printed sources to search engines and now to AI assistants is more than just a change in technology; it is a change in how we relate to information. The future will bring a more personalized and intelligent information environment, where we can use the power of AI to access and use information. This will not only change how we find information today, but also how we learn and grow for the future.

The next step in AI evolution is to have AI assistants that can anticipate and conduct searches for us, without us even asking. This could make search engines obsolete in the next decade. As AI becomes more advanced and autonomous, we need to be more aware and responsible of how we use it.