Google: what will search engines look like in the future?


Sadje posted a question – how many times a day/week do you Google stuff? The answer should be straightforward – I’m constantly using google, so much so it might be difficult to quantify it. However, the question got me thinking; Google is so integral to many lives today, we use the search engine as a tool for everything and anything – want to know how to spell something, I use Google rather than a dictionary – its so easy to access – computer, phone etc and we usually always have a smartphone to hand. That’s the current situation, but with everyone talking about AI and ChatGPT and its equivalents, I did start to wonder how that might shape the future of Google as a search engine – I know there is already some speculation.

How often do I use Google

I hadn’t really tried to quantify my google activity up til now, but its so easy to access information that I probably use Google much more than I think. I get curious about something – I’ll check Google. I’m writing something – and want to check my facts, I’ll Google it. I’m not sure how much I use Google compared to others, but I do know that I’d rather look up written information than a podcast or video to explain something. I tend to only use YouTube if I’m really stuck or looking for a video to supplement the reading material I’ve already discovered for classes. Therefore I do believe I use Google extensively, and on a daily basis.

Here are some of the things I use Google for regularly – and that’s just a quick, 5 minute think to pull this list together, so no doubt there will be many more things I could add.

  • Yesterday at work I had an argument with a colleague and was sure I was right, but the other person wouldn’t back down – I googled for my proof/evidence
  • I was writing a lesson plan and wanted to find some materials – Google it
  • I was creating course materials for another course
  • I use google to search for text when I think I might be looking at an example of plagiarism
  • I was considering making pancakes – easy to Google for a recipe
  • I hear something on the news or in a notification on my phone, I’ll Google to get more information or check facts

The internet is a massive information resource at our fingertips and Google helps us organise it and present our search findings. However, with so much information out there we need to know how to use it effectively; use credible, reliable sources, and avoid fake news. Please see my post on evidence-based practice for some information about this.

Google v AI

Via Google, I’ve been doing a lot of reading/research about AI, and there has been some debate about whether we’re seeing the end of days for Google/traditional search engines. Here are a couple of articles about the risks:

OpenAI’s ChatGPT Not Likely to Replace Google (Business Insider)
AI chatbot predicted to replace Google in a couple of years (Phone Arena)

Its good to hypothesise but we can’t say for definite what will happen. I do believe, however that things will change. ChatGPT and other AI technology are here to stay and will only continue to learn and improve. The only way Google will survive will be to adapt and keep up with the changes, using AI themselves otherwise they are likely to be overtaken. When looking at this topic, It did lead me to considering various questions:

How Accurate are AI Chatbots?

ChatGPT passed the US Medical Licencing exam which is scary; however, when looking at the facts it scored 50-60%. While this means, yes it did pass the exam (pass mark is 60%), as it could get 50% that means that 50% of the time it could also be wrong. If you use ChatGPT or another AI to answer your questions, how would you know its accurate? Is there a risk that by using AI we might actually end up creating more fake news, but believe its true because it came from AI/technology? There is evidence to suggest that we actually trust technology more than people and therefore because an AI has given us the information, we will believe it without question.

I find it interesting that when I added in related posts, the technology supporting our blogging has proposed a review of a ballet production – well, we all need a bit of culture, right?

Do we trust AI?

I wonder if AI/ChatGPT type-bots will replace Google – they may provide answers to some questions – although currently I’d worry about accuracy/reliability – could Chat AI end up inadvertently contribute to Fake News – it doesn’t know any better and people generally might trust what it says more because its a computer and therefore believed to be more accurate/trustworthy. (Harvard Business Review)

Can AI do everything I want from Google?

If we’re looking for information, we can ask AI a question and it will provide the answer. If we use Google, we would need to look at the sources it identifies and form the answer ourselves. We can see, therefore that AI might have the edge here. However, while Google will provide you with a range of sources, I guess AI may or may not – depending on the instructions you give it. Tell it ‘give me 5 options’ – it will give 5 options. Just ask a question, it will answer your question.

Currently AI cannot do everything Google can. It can search through the information it has access to in order to fulfil its brief, but at the moment it cannot search the internet, so it wouldn’t be able to make recommendations about restaurants, performances at theatres etc which are advertised online. So there are limits to AI’s abilities for now. I do suspect that’s simply just because its not been given access or the programming to do that yet, but I suspect its just a matter of time.

Will AI make people lazy?

Is it laziness, or is it just looking for the easy option? I’m sure in the past, people thought us lazy if we searched on Google or earlier tools for information rather than sitting and searching through books and magazines etc for information. I do think there is the potential to encourage laziness if that trait is already there. If you can get AI to type up your answers and give you all the information; but as discussed above, do we take that information at face value or do we critique it to ensure its accurate and valid? Do we still look for various sources of information, or is it doing the work for us? Ultimately, that’s a choice we must each make for ourselves.

Are you already using AI?

AI is already around us. We are already using it regularly. Do you use Google Translate? I know I do – the translation tool is a form of AI/Machine learning which improves the more we use it; but obviously it has a more limited remit because its simply translating languages. We can embed a translator on our blog/websites for people to use to translate our posts – this is a form of AI.

In terms of the laziness I was referring to above, many of us are already using a form of AI – we ask it questions and it provides us answers. Chat GPT is an advancement of that. What I’m referring to is Siri/Alexa – the more questions we ask them, the more they learn, the better their answers become. A bit step from Siri to ChatGPT but this is how technology moves forward. (I don’t actually use these tools, so please let me know if my understanding is flawed – that is another characteristic of AI/ChatGPT – its always confident in its accuracy).

The Future

Google and other search engines need to keep up-to-date so they continue to be relevant and people will continue to use Google tools. The search functions we use today will change, but I hope in 10 years’ time, I’m still able to use Google to access the information I seek.

These are my thoughts; you may or may not agree with me. You may think I’ve overlooked something – or am just plain wrong. I can’t wait to read your reactions in the comments section – will I get any responses from ChatGPT?

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  1. I do have some concerns about people relying on AI or trusting them to be accurate when they may only be accurate 50% of the time; hopefully, that will improve with time if AI is truly our go-to resource in the future. I’m wary of saying it’s laziness to use AI for similar reasons you mention. I remember in undergrad when my professors only allowed us to include one or two online sources in our research papers– the rest had to be physical books– because it would supposedly make us lazy to only find information online, or it wasn’t considered as reliable. Now some of my students are currently working on a research essay and I would be surprised to see a physical book included in their citations. Our expectations change with time.

    • Thats very true about what lists of references look like. I’m not sure the last time I looked at a physical book for class prep

    • I find both points you brought up to be fascinating, maybe because I’ve been thinking/writing about this myself as well:
      – Accuracy, like many things, is a double-edged sword. Steven Colbert, back in his Colbert Report days once asked folks to change the wikipedia entry about white elephants to reflect that he and he alone saved them all (or something to that effect… It’s been a while!). The entry was changed as he requested, and soon after changed back again. If we open an encyclopedia from 50 years ago, how accurate will it be? How about one from 100 years ago? I think to some degree, one of the things that is on us as fully matured humans, is to employ critical thinking and determine the accuracy of different sources. No, not easy. Yes, essential?

      Laziness, like many other things, is also a double-edge sword. It’s the mother of many inventions 🙂 But there are different kinds of “laziness”, the healthy kind that prompts us to find better ways to do things, and the less healthy kind, that has us believing the “easy answer” vs. the “right answer.” It’s a great question: why is the “right answer” more difficult to come by? What do you guys think?

      • Great point about encyclopedias, things do change sometimes as we progress, as we get more information. I also agree about the need for critical thinking. It’s so important to question, and to reflect. Thanks for joining in 😁

      • I agree that critical thinking is hugely important. I try to frequently include critical and creative thinking in my classes because I believe those are two skills my students can apply almost anywhere, and we can always use more of both. I think my only worry with laziness is that AI would be used as something where people just ask a question and expect a correct answer without thinking about it. I guess people already do that with tools like Alexa or Siri. To answer your question, I think the “right” answer is more difficult to come by because it requires seeing the bigger picture. It’s quick and easy to just look at one side of an issue or one possible answer rather than investing more time to gather more information on a topic.

  2. A very interesting and insightful post, Brenda. It seems the talk around AI is doing its rounds proper and comes with much concern.
    Thanks for sharing this. 🤍🙏

  3. What a thoughtful, well-researched, and thought-provoking post, Brenda! I think you’ve pointed out why critical thinking skills like the ones you write about are necessary now and still will be in the future!

    • Thanks Wynne. Some of my teaching centres around the role of technology now and in the future in the workplace. I think I’ll be having discussions like this in the classroom … about how to use AI as students and employees

  4. Such interesting, exciting and unsettling questions to think about! I keep hearing about what world changing events are on the horizon with AI- I just hope we make good decisions as people on how to use it.

  5. Fascinating blog post Brenda. I think everyone uses Google every now and then. Google is like an answer guide and it is where most conduct their research to see the actual empirical facts. In terms of Al or Chat GPT well, I really don’t use those things, they are a waste of time and they invite laziness to the process of writing blog posts. In the future well I really can’t say because we don’t know the future and what it has in store. 💯🙏

    • Thanks for joining in Mthobisi. I’ve had a look at AI, but I haven’t liked what it produced for me. I have a student who has said AI has been introduced in her workplace and its already as good as her. She is worried about being replaced

  6. Google ‘History’ (tap on it) is something I use. At least once a week. On the iPad it opens up the list of visits over the day and days/weeks previous. Then I edit by tap highlighting and delete. I used to use the option to ‘delete all’. But passwords to sites had to be re entered again. Like WordPress log in. Surprised at how many search inclusions are picked up from ‘other sources’. Little add ons. Interesting read again Brenda.

  7. Interesting idea!!
    I use Google very frequently, especially for my blogs.

    AI can probably replace in many activities, but definitely not in the writing.

    • I have a student who would disagree. But I suspect it would depend on the type of writing and even where it can replace humans, we should probably still have a role in monitoring and editing what it produces. As it says in the video I shared, we will be replaced by people who are competent in using AI

      • AI is supposed to make the work easy.

        What I am trying to say
        No AI can write like Brenda. Even with all the programming and data, it cannot replicate you or your style.

      • I agree. But it can write and if its given clear instructions, it will produce something. I have tinkered with the trial AI paragraph writer here on wp but deleted what it gave me

  8. I might be in a minority here, Brenda, but I rarely use Google as a search engine. I have Bing on my laptop, iPhone and iPad. With Microsoft’s investment in AI technology they will be moving in that direction. From a writing perspective, I think most will adapt and treat AI technology as we do with other systems. ( grammar, spellcheckers etc.) A writer will always have an editorial responsibility for what they publish. I will be interested to see, in the future, where AI software (and the owning companies) sits when cases of libel, slander, and copyright infringements start to appear.

    • I have bing on the college laptop, but I prefer Google – but that might just be familiarity
      I hadn’t thought about legal implications, but yes I agree, that will be interesting

  9. If google changes, it will not be due to unreliable AI but because courts and legislature puts limits on its practices for harvesting data, being a practical monopoly, or responsibility for allowing bad actors. AI is a distraction, as the Business Insider article you linked to says. (I linked to the same article in a post).

    • Thanks Stefan. A distraction, true, but on a general level, I don’t think we should dismiss it. It is a tool, to be used, just like any other

      • How will the tool be used? Until someone can explain how something that will misdiagnose an ailment half the time has a practical purpose, color me blah. But, I am not dismissive of the excitement because it points to how central language is to humans.

      • I agree and understand where you’re coming from. There are still so many unknowns. I guess it’s good that it’s got people thinking, and discussing. But interesting of how to use it, I’m on the fence myself right now. But sitting on the sidelines observing

  10. Thank you for such a detailed and well thought through answer, John. These are really some serious things we also need to consider. And, as you say, war is a really pressing concern today. 😟

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